Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 4 (Detoxing Your Home)

Finally, fourth in my series for new parents (or parents who are new to OllieOllieToxinFree), I offer some basic suggestions to help you detox your home and help everyone breathe easier!
1. Avoid scented products (anything listing "fragrance" as an ingredient). Also, beware of certain "unscented" products that use "masking fragrance" to cover up the original fragrance—these can be doubly toxic!
2. Avoid fabric softeners, scented dryer sheets and bleach. These products are VERY toxic. There are better options out there: Suck it up and buy the unbleached diapers and natural wipes (Mother Nature brand is great)—I can't find them around here, so I buy from drugstore.com or diapers.com. Bounce fragrance-free, dye-free fabric sheets are okay; Seventh Generation are better. Ecover, ECOS, Sun & Earth, dropps and Seventh Generation make good detergents. Method (Target) is also okay, if fragrance free.
3. Avoid ALL pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers (except compost). Pesticides are neuro-toxins (affect the central nervous system), and they don't know the difference between the BUGS and YOU (or your PETS)! For fleas, roaches, ants, etc., use diatomacious earth, boric acid, and nematodes. You can get these from health food stores and pet supply stores.
4. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products. For most jobs, white vinegar and baking soda will clean as well as any product. I unclogged our bathroom sink with baking soda, vinegar and hot water and I promise you, it worked better than Drano! I do not recommend Method, Caldrea, Mrs. Meyer's or other super smelly brands. That "clean" smell is doing your lungs, brain and endocrine system no favors. Let it go!
5. Drink and bathe in filtered water. Taking a shower in chlorinated water causes the chlorine to go right into your blood stream. Buy a shower filter that easily attaches to your shower nozzle from water-supply stores (check your Yellow Pages).
6. Eat organic food when possible. Avoid processed foods, foods with colors and dyes, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, etc.  Also, AVOID products containing "NutraSweet" (aspartame) -- it breaks down into formic acid ("ant-sting poison") and methanol (wood alcohol) in your body! In fact, read Food Rules by Michael Pollan and get Jillian Michaels' Master Your Metabolism. Both will enlighten you in short order.
7. Wear natural-fiber clothing (100% cotton, linen, wool, or silk). Clothes marked "permanent press" or "wrinkle resistant" have been treated with formaldehyde that does NOT wash out! Same goes for the flame-retardant PJs. Skip them and choose kid-friendly cotton, such as Hanna Anderson's "Oko-Tex standard 100" organic line. We love them, especially when they're on sale!
8. Use only 100% cotton, wool, or pure silk bed linens and blankets. Avoid "no-iron" or "wrinkle-resistant". A good brand is Martex's "Simply Cotton", available at department stores. Wal-Mart also carries 100% cotton "T-shirt" sheets! And if you can find organic cotton linens, all the better because you are supporting healthier agriculture.
9. As much as possible, avoid plastics, particleboard, plywood, glues, inks (or look for low-VOC inks), standard paints (try Sherwin Williams' Harmony or Benjamin Moore's Aura or Natura; or even better, Anna
Sova or Real Milk Paint instead), foam rubber, vinyl, carpeting, synthetic rugs, varnishes (look for AFM Safecoat as an alternative), and solvents (try citrus solvents instead). Most plastics contain PVCs but are not labeled as such and these are really bad, especially for young, developing kids. Definitely avoid #3 and #7 plastics, which contain pthlalates (hormone disruptors). Try to find alternatives, for example, replace your PVC shower liner with one made of natural fabric. For more on plastics: http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/pvcdatabase/bad.html
10. Open your windows as often as possible! Even in the most polluted cities, the outdoor air has been found to be a lot less toxic than the indoor air! Amazing, isn't it?
11. Certain houseplants are beneficial to remove toxins from the air, such as formaldehyde, benzene etc.  The best plants for removing these and other toxins are philodendrons, spider plants, aloe vera, English
ivy, golden pothos, and boston fern.
12. Recycle everything you can. Reuse anything you can. Reduce—buy only what you need. It's hard to do in our culture today, but this is what it all boils down to.
Have any suggestions to add? Comment it and I'll add it here!


Monday, June 28, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 3 (Toxins Alert)

I got started with all the nontoxic and organic stuff because my firstborn had some respiratory issues—probably a mild case of asthma. It raised my awareness of chemical triggers that—no surprise—are really not good for anyone, least of all a little kid.
My research yielded some great sites for seeing how safe the products you use really are. It's quite eye-opening. And I admit, it's a little overwhelming to take it all in and make the changes necessary. However, I think the better educated you are, the better decisions you can make each time you go to the store to buy stuff for your family.
This site lets you look up products and see if they are good choices or not, based on tests for known toxins in the product. The product list is good but not exhaustive, however you can look at the ingredient list and compare by ingredients. For instance, I was shocked to see that some Mustela products (a favorite of ours) are among the worst choices for baby. I was equally surprised to see that a few other products I use are better than I would've expected. Anyway, it's a great resource to know about. A NOTE: You will see a percentage with each product with respect to the "data gap." This means that testing may be inconclusive on some ingredients and that their confidence level with the score is less than 100%. It makes it harder to evaluate the true health costs, but in my book, better safe than sorry. If there's any indication something is harmful, why not find an alternative?

Chemical of the Day blog by Stephanie Greenwood of Bubble & Bee Organic
Stephanie provides in-depth looks at individual chemicals and explains why she is or is not comfortable with each. Her opinions do not always jive with the Skin Deep Database, but that's a good thing. She is helpful in making sense of the data gap issues you encounter there. She's also totally accessible, so tweet at her or email her with any questions. (Bubble & Bee products are also great.)
If you are suspicious of how toxic basic everyday things really are, check out these statistics. Then go to the EPA.gov site and validate. It will blow your mind. There are products like Teflon that are proven carcinogens but do not have to be removed from consumer products until 2015. The lobbies are so strong that the government can't do the right thing and just pull these off the shelves. Very sad.
www.safemama.com (all about good stuff for moms, kids and moms-to-be)
www.idealbite.com (daily tips but getting more and more commercial) 

www.thegreenguide.com (worth subscribing to)

What sites do you rely on that I've missed? Do tell!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 1 (Must-Haves)

Sometimes, people ask me what they *really* need as a new parent. I usually email it to friends, but realized it makes sense as a blog post to share with a larger audience. Please comment with your faves that I've missed!
  • The book Baby Bargains. Buy the latest edition and read it. The authors compile feedback from parents — not advertisers — so you know what works, what matters and what to avoid.
  • Boppy pillow (you don't *need* a cover, but it's nice to wash that instead of the pillow itself)
  • Nature Babycare baby wipes (Tushies/Seventh Generation are also safe options) ((cheapest via Subscribe & Save on Amazon.com))
  • Chlorine-free, toxin-free diapers. Good disposable brands are Seventh Generation, Nature Babycare, Earth's Best and Tushies. Don't fall for the mainstream brands' pretend green lines. Another great option are gDiapers. They are cloth with flushable or washable inserts. Very green but pretty inconvenient unless you have a bathroom in your kids' room.
  • BuggyBagg Shopping Cart cover (a little more expensive, but super nice and fits over even the biggest carts - I love mine)
  • Basic Pack & Play (and a sheet for it)--pick one up off Craigslist or from a friend
  • Bouncy Seat (many good ones, in many designs, G liked the Fisher-Price Aquarium one)
  • Kid booster seat (we didn't use a high chair for very long)
  • Blankets of all sizes
  • Swaddling wraps (do not underestimate how swaddling tightly will soothe a baby!)
  • Infant car seat (be sure to check max height & weight. G outgrew his in 3 months which was too soon, so I got a Graco SafeSeat for T and that lasted more like 8 months.)
  • Baby bathtub (we love the Safety First blue plastic one with the green mesh hammock insert but this one is more eco-friendly!)
  • Kiddopotamus Tiny Diner dining out mat
  • Kiddopotamus great rubber bib (sounds nasty, but AWESOME to wipe and use again)
  • Good thick burp cloths, organic if possible (the ones I love were gifts, like Three Marthas)
  • Sturdy but lightweight stroller (we chose MacLaren for the taller handle, but lots are cheaper & good
  • Books (see Part 2...)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest post: Green Energy—Policy vs. Populism

While Sean and I have enjoyed many a heated debate over politics, candidates and the Constitution, I so appreciated this gem he submitted to a newspaper in California. I thought you'd like it, too. Please share your comments here or on Facebook. Thanks for reading! 

by Sean Michael Dodd

The unabated hemorrhaging of oil in the Gulf of Mexico should be a teachable moment for Americans of all political stripes, as it reveals a hole in government policy just as gaping and destructive as BP’s unpluggable hole a mile under the sea.

The risks of such a catastrophe were not unknown. It is precisely with the Exxon Valdez spill in our collective consciousness that a decades-long debate has been raging between opponents and supporters of offshore drilling.  In the 2008 election, the McCain campaign took a flagrantly pro-oil stance, with “Drill, baby, drill!” while the Obama camp remained demurely noncommittal, leaving it to the public´s imagination as to where the Democratic Party really stood.

But by early 2010, Obama had finally pinned himself to a position, supporting offshore drilling and nuclear power as legitimate concessions to his political rivals in return for bipartisan support of green-energy initiatives. Now, in the wake of the BP disaster, Obama has reversed himself, joining dozens of hitherto pro-drilling senators and governors who have suddenly begun clamoring for a moratorium on offshore drilling.

This is not policy. It is populism.

Policy requires leaders to show courage and to take the political risk of holding to a position precisely because the issue has an enduring ethical importance which overrides any short-term political gains that compromise might bring. Were it not for sound and consistent government policy on issues of public safety and environmental stewardship, we would not even have an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or a Food & Drug Administration (FDA), or an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But these agencies are only as effective as each presidential administration allows them to be, and we have seen under both Bush and Obama the relative inability of the SEC to regulate markets, or of the EPA to adequately protect the environment, or of the Minerals Management Service to properly oversee offshore drilling operations.

Populism –  swaying to the winds of public opinion and compromising beliefs in order to win favor –  leads to incoherent and contradictory positions which undermine true leadership. When times are good, populism is sweet ambrosia. But at the first hint of crisis, populism quickly turns to kryptonite. Already, Obama is beginning to pay the cost of his populism, in terms of falling poll numbers and lost political capital. But the damage to Obama’s popularity pales in comparison with the real-world effects on the people of the gulf, or the ecological devastation of the ocean itself and the long-term consequences for the global biosphere.

If the BP oil catastrophe teaches us anything, it is that the Obama Administration’s green policies are focused on greenbacks for oil execs, not a green environment for the People. Maybe it is time for us to stop “hoping” for change from well-oiled Democrats and instead start supporting real change by voting for a party which treats environmental protection not as a political football, but as a central plank in its official platform:

“Promoting publicly owned, safe, clean, renewable energy;
 Reducing global warming through efficiency, conservation, and fossil fuel taxes;
 Protecting endangered species and agricultural land, and opposing sprawling developments.”   
  – Green Party of California (www.cagreens.org)
For Greens, environmental protection is not a cheap populist appeal; it is a way of life. A Green president would have sought to ban offshore drilling altogether. Under Green leadership, the government would tax oil and coal to reflect their true costs to society and the environment. A Green president would have pursued a sweeping green-energy stimulus package from Day 1 of the administration.

America’s energy security, not to mention the future livability of the planet, depends on making a dramatic transition to renewable forms of energy. But with the Big Oil corporate power duopoly maintained by Democrats and Republicans, America’s timely transition to a green economy looks increasingly unlikely.

Against this grim tableau, how is it that the Green Party, with its core platforms of environmentalism, sustainable growth, civil rights, and social justice, remains, in the eyes of many Americans, a minor third party? In fact, the Green Party can no longer be considered a third party. On the major issues facing us in the 21st Century, the Green Party is the first and only party for a new era of American peace and prosperity.

Being green means voting Green. Join us.
Sean is a member of the California Green Party and the Napa Greens.

Photo credit: Energy Secretary Steven Chu by Jurvetson@Flickr