Monday, May 24, 2010

sometimes you feel like a nut

**Skip to the bottom to avoid substantive content

I just read this New Yorker article about exposure to toxins from consumer products and food. It's a nice summary of the problems with the epidemiological literature on this kind of complex topic, the reasons that concerns about environmental toxic exposures in everyday life persist despite some negative studies, and the difficulty of regulating the use of new chemicals in consumer products. It is really hard to demonstrate clear evidence of harm for exposures that are difficult to measure and that have their effects over the course of a lifetime. There are often conflicts of interest in funding the studies, and the biggest players generally have a vested interest in muddying the waters.

Having spent so much time studying lead, I feel really cautious about this stuff. The scientific community suspected for decades that it was harmful before effective regulation was put in place and before the research became irrefutable. Children are still routinely poisoned, resulting in a lifelong decrease in cognitive function. Industries with an interest in the continued use of lead threw up highly effective smokescreens for much of the 20th century.

I think this kind of concern has shifted from being a paranoid fringe sort of thing to being something that many people are concerned about. Most parents of young children that I know have done at least a little reading about toxic exposures. In my ultimate league a couple summers ago we looked around and realized that the people with the metal water bottles were all the women with little kids.

This is why I try to do to minimize our exposure to whatever's out there. Nothing fancy, and it doesn't always work, but I figure if I'm reasonably consistent I can decrease the kids' cumulative exposure some.
  • Buy mostly organic produce, especially for foods that don't get peeled (apples, tomatoes). This year we're trying this CSA/collective.
  • I try to avoid having most plastics in the house, particularly soft ones. This can be tough with the toys, but we've ended up with a lot of wooden ones.
  • I avoid vinyl stuff. I replaced the shower curtain liner with a nontoxic one.
  • We have a water filter on the tap and use it for all drinking water.
  • We rarely have meat in the house (this is because of when I used to have dreams about eating it by accident and Aaron said we could just not have it around). When I get it for Aaron and Dylan I try to get it nitrite/hormone/antibiotic-free. I do the same for milk. Come to think of it, with the amount of cheese we eat maybe I should pay more attention to that.
  • We avoid most personal care products (while, uh, attempting to maintain good hygiene). I think most of them are silly anyway. I don't even condition my hair anymore--I like it better without it. I like this guide as a quick reference for baby stuff. It's certainly an alarmist kind of website, but in this instance alarmist doesn't seem so different from caution in the face of limited information.
  • I use diluted vinegar for most housecleaning.
  • No kids on cell phones unless they're on speakerphone.
  • I only get sunscreens with zinc or titanium as the active ingredients. I try to use clothes instead of sunscreen when possible. We are a pale lot over here and this is an ongoing quest. I wish I could make Dylan walk around in a beekeeper uniform, but it turns out that isn't socially acceptable.
  • I try to have most of our food have mostly recognizable ingredients. I don't think natural vs artificial is necessarily meaningful in this context, but once the ingredient list gets really long and complicated I don't like it. I am trying to be more consistent about this at home since everyone else in the world seems intent on getting as much junk into Dylan as possible. I never thought I would care about this since you know I like a good cupcake, and I definitely don't expect anyone else to care if wittle Dylan doesn't get her organic apple, but I really am impressed with how hard it is to get her consistently good nutrition. Although nutrition is different than actual toxic exposures. I am newly appreciative of being able to control what Ollie eats and I'm having fun pureeing everything in sight. Dylan gets jealous and has been eating mashed banana for breakfast.
  • I am starting to sound like a nut, I suppose. Most of these things don't actually take very much effort though. I don't worry about it when we eat out and I don't nag anyone else about it and I try not to drive myself crazy. It may be too late for that last one anyway.

Baby Gabby has been attracting all sorts of relatives to town. We obviously have fewer places for guests now that there are four of us, so we have had to improvise sleeping arrangements. Maybe this makes Zach a Bunkle? (= bunk + uncle)

No comments: