Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Toxic Sandbox by Libby McDonald

I have to return this book to the library today because someone else has requested it. The Toxic Sandbox is about environmental toxins and how they affect our children's health. The author focuses her research on the following toxins: LEAD, MERCURY, certain chemicals in PLASTICS (phthalates, especially the three most potent ones, which are diethyl phthalate DEHP, dibutyl phthalate DBP, and benzylbutyl phthalate BBP, as well as bisphenol A), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), brominated FLAME RETARDANTS (PBDEs), AIR POLLUTION, and PESTICIDES.

Since February I have been trying to make small choices to protect my family and the environment, to live a more "green" lifestyle. It is overwhelming when I try to figure out everything at once. There is so much material in this book, for example, that I feel like giving up and burying my head in the "toxic" sand like an ostrich. But I must remember Baby Steps! So here is my assessment of what I'm doing in each of these areas.

LEAD. We live in a 1950s ranch, and I'm afraid it is completely contaminated with lead-based paint, dust, et cetera, but I don't know for sure. So far I have done nothing about this. McDonald suggests that I start by finding out exactly what I'm dealing with in terms of the lead in this house. I can find out by buying a home testing kit at the hardware store, or by hiring someone to come out and do a full assessment (look in the yellow pages under Environmental Products & Services). I think that needs to be my first step.

I feel less overwhelmed by the MERCURY thing. I've read the list of contaminated fish several times before today, and I at least know not to buy "albacore" canned tuna. After that I get confused about how much of each kind of fish is safe for each family member to eat. McDonald suggests a simple formula that I can remember: don't eat any of the high-mercury fish ever. Eat the moderate-mercury fish no more than once a month. Eat the low-mercury fish no more than once a week. There are a lot of fish on each of these lists, but the only ones we really eat are canned tuna, salmon, clams, shrimp, and fish sticks. Of those, canned albacore tuna is on the high-mercury list (don't eat ever). Canned light tuna is on the moderate-mercury/ once a month list. Clams, "Pacific" or "wild caught" salmon (NOT "Atlantic" or "farmed" salmon), shrimp, and fish sticks/ fish sandwiches are on the low-mercury list to be eaten no more than once a week. To keep track of when we're eating it, I'm thinking of instituting a Catholic fish Friday type of deal at my house. I've also switched from buying canned tuna to buying canned alaskan salmon (boneless skinless!) so that we can eat "tuna" salad sandwiches more than once a month.

As for the PLASTICS I've been thinking about this, but still feeling overwhelmed by it. I am trying to not buy anything new made of plastic. I'm turning my mind to glass, wood, and metal alternatives. This past Saturday I got rid of all of the plastic toys in the house that the children rarely use and took them to Salvation Army. I'm about to replace my dirty old vinyl shower curtain with a new one, and I'll make sure it is the safe kind. I've been thinking about storing leftovers in our glass containers instead of plastic ones, but I haven't done it yet. McDonald says that more harmful chemicals leach out of plastic when it is heated, so avoid putting hot things into plastic or microwaving plastic. It is probably time for me to just switch all hot foods or foods that I plan to heat up to glass, and use the plastic containers for cold things that will never be heated. I've been saving large glass jars from pickles, etc., instead of recycling them, to use for this purpose. Just FYI, before I move on to the next topic, the phthalates are in soft plastics, like vinyl. Bisphenol A is in polycarbonate, the hard, shiny plastic. Here are some helpful websites: For phthalate-free beauty products go to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; for phthalate-free toys and home products try Clean Production Action or Greenpeace. For a quick reference on plastic products check out The Green Guide.

For now, I don't have the time or energy to do a thorough reading about PCBs and flame retardants (PBDEs), so here is just a bit of info if you're interested. PCBs were banned by the federal government in 1977, but they are still around. To keep away from them, avoid farmed salmon, which includes all "Atlantic" salmon. Avoid the fatty tissue of meat and dairy products, i.e. choose low or fat-free options (or be a vegan like Michelle!). Get rid of dust around your home.

AIR POLLUTION in one sentence or less: drive less, beware of smelly school bus emissions, don't idle your car.

PESTICIDES can be reduced by buying organic foods. For more on this, see my post on Potato Girl in Michigan about the Dirty Dozen.

Well, that concludes my review of The Toxic Sandbox by Libby McDonald. Good luck, and please write in with any tips you may have for me.


LL said...

My, my, that is a thorough post. :-)

On lead: I asked our pediatrician and he said that it is almost unheard of for a child in a 50's home in Washtenaw County to have lead poisoning - you only see it in kids in 100 year old farm houses here. It sounded like local laws beat the federal lead-free standard. But if you have a lead-era home that was painted on the OUTSIDE with lead paint, you shouldn't grow veggies in your (now toxic) dirt. If you do have lead paint, the big problem is old, painted wood window frames, which create lead dust.

On the mercury thing, canned salmon is always the safe kind of salmon (weird, isn't it?). And I have a yummy recipe for salmon cakes (who doesn't love fried stuff?? Don't tell healthy PG...) if you want it. :-)

Melinda said...

Andrea, what do you know about fish oil capsules? I have a giant bottle that I bought at Costco. They contain sardine and anchovy oils--are they relatively safe?

The Rackleys said...

OK Andrea, Could you be more inspiring? Exercising everyday and now this? I seriously need to come over and talk to you. I've actually just started thinking about chucking all our plastics too and going to glass--so I want to get more info from you about this. Another thing to consider (my dad was an alternative/holistic dentist), is to remove all amalgam/silver fillings in your mouth. They are much more toxic than anything else. Most contain 50% mercury that is constantly being released in your mouth! (despite what the ADA says). I worked with my father for 10 years and saw dozens of MS patients confined to wheelchairs get up and walk after removing the fillings and going through a detox--it was amazing! I'm still working on my 30 day blog fast. I sware you are the only blog I really catch up on once a week.

Rebecca said...

That's definitely one of those books I'd be avoiding reading! I think I have enough things to be paranoid as it is!!! (including lead in our water around here, even copper pipes had some lead in them until about 1985 supposedly) You can always just get your kids checked for lead. Quick, easy finger prick. (ha, with kids? riiiight!)

I haven't read what you wrote about much--see above--but I do know that there was a email sending around rumors quoting a smart guy from John Hopkins about all the dangers of plastic. Mr. Smart Guy responded to it on his webpage, saying most of it was totally false--except something about heating with plastic in the microwave. Sure, it released such and such, but it was such a small amount that it wasn't going to affect anyone. He said you were at higher risk of getting food poisoning. Better to focus on your risk level than try to avoid every single little thing that could possibly ever harm you because, well, as we know, this is a telestial world. It's supposed to all come to an end at some point!

Am I rambling? Hmm....sorry!!!

;) Good luck w/ your healthy choices, girl!! ;)

lizard said...

i came across this posting in googling for more information on this: we don't use many canned foods, but i have a young family and found this disconcerting.