Public health officials, other experts see a growing need to educate parents on how to reduce children’s exposures to toxic chemicals commonly found in the home
Leading Canadian health and environmental experts today released a video to help expectant parents and families take action to reduce child health risks associated with toxic substances commonly found in the home.
The video can be viewed online www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
Controlling house dust; switching to less-toxic, fragrance-free cleaners; taking extreme care with renovation projects; avoiding certain types and uses of plastics; and choosing fish that are low in mercury are the five priority actions recommended by the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE).
The 12-minute video – available in English and French and complemented by supporting print resources – is designed to be a “turn-key” solution for prenatal educators and other service providers looking for ways to address growing concerns about toxic substances and associated health risks for children. Parents can also access it directly from the CPCHE website (www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca).
“The greatest potential for harm from toxic exposures is in the womb and in early childhood,” says Erica Phipps, CPCHE Partnership Director. “The rapid, dynamic development of young bodies and brains makes children especially vulnerable to harm. Our aim is to empower parents and caregivers with simple, low-cost measures to safeguard their children from possible health risks associated with toxic chemicals.”
The CPCHE partnership worked with public health units across Ontario to develop and pilot-test the video with parents. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“Expectant and new parents are concerned about lead, BPA, phthalates and other toxic chemicals in everyday products, and they want to know what they can do. This video offers simple, low-cost tips that families can start putting into practice today,” says Lyne Soramaki, Public Health Nurse with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. “We’re looking forward to using this video in our prenatal classes and other programs for parents.”
“The modern reality is that low levels of toxic chemicals are common in the environment, both indoors and out,” says Susan Makin, Director Healthy Families at Toronto Public Health, one of the CPCHE partner organizations involved in the creation and field-testing of the new video. “We continue to see a need to educate parents and caregivers on how they can protect their children from exposure to these chemicals to help reduce or eliminate associated health risks. This engaging new video gives us a tool to do just that.”
“Ontario is committed to ensuring that parents have the knowledge they need to minimize their children’s exposure to toxic materials,” said Ontario Minister of the Environment, Jim Bradley. “I encourage parents to reduce toxic exposure in their homes by considering the steps presented in this video.”
Experts Increasingly Concerned about the Potential Long-term Effects of Early Exposures to Toxic Chemicals
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that toxic exposures from common sources in the home – ranging from lead in old paint to synthetic chemicals in cleaning products, fragrances, upholstered furniture and plastics – may adversely affect child health and development. Such exposures may also be contributing to population-wide increases in chronic diseases that typically manifest later in life.
“A number of the chemicals used in everyday products, such as phthalates and BPA, can interfere with the body’s hormone system,” says Dr. Robin Walker, pediatrician and Board Chair, Canadian Institute of Child Health. “Because of the vital role that hormones play in a child’s development, exposure to ‘endocrine-disrupting’ chemicals during infancy and childhood, and in the womb, is of particular concern.”
Laboratory research and limited but increasing human data suggest that early exposures to Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting substances may be contributing to chronic conditions such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and reproductive effects. (See: Focus on Bisphenol A)
BPA is a synthetic chemical widely used in common products, including hard plastic water bottles and some dishware, thermal paper cash register receipts and the lining of most food and beverage cans. Its use in polycarbonate baby bottles was banned in Canada in 2008. Phthalates are used to soften PVC plastic (also known as vinyl) and to prolong the scent of fragrances used in numerous personal care products. Canada banned phthalates from certain children’s toys as of June 2011.
In early March, CPCHE will convene a workshop of experts and stakeholders in Toronto to explore the implications for public health policy and practice of the emerging scientific evidence linking early exposures to environmental toxicants with later development of chronic disease.
The upcoming workshop will build on a scoping review of the scientific evidence, published last year by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and other CPCHE partners, and a key outcome of a multi-year collaboration between CPCHE and the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA).
“Given the enormity of the chronic disease challenge now and into the future, as a society we need to explore all opportunities for prevention,” says Erica Phipps of CPCHE. “Reducing fetal and childhood exposure to harmful substances could be an important piece of the puzzle, alongside existing efforts to address well-established risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise and poor nutrition, and related underlying causes such as poverty.”
The Top 5 Ways for Parents to Prevent Child Exposure to Toxics at Home
The 12-minute, illustrated video – available in English and French and accompanied by supporting print resources – is designed to be a “turn-key” solution for prenatal educators and other service providers looking for ways to address growing concerns about toxic substances and associated health risks for children. Parents and families can also access it, free of charge, directly from the CPCHE website (www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca) and on YouTube.
The video is designed to equip parents with practical information on ways to reduce toxic exposures in their day-to-day routines and through purchasing decisions, as a means of preventing or reducing possible health risks.
1) Bust that dust
Frequent vacuuming or wet mopping, and dusting with a damp cloth, top the list of recommended measures. House dust is a major source of children’s exposures to toxic substances. Small amounts of toxic chemicals settle into house dust from normal wear-and-tear on consumer products, such as couches, TVs and other electronics, and from old leaded paint.
2) Go green when you clean
Parents can reduce their family’s exposure to toxic chemicals and save money by switching to simple, non-toxic cleaners.
Baking soda is a good scouring powder for tubs and sinks, and vinegar mixed with water works well for cleaning windows, surfaces and floors, the experts point out. Avoiding the use of air “fresheners” and selecting fragrance-free laundry detergents can reduce children’s exposures to the chemicals used to make fragrance or “parfum,” some of which have been linked to disruption of normal hormone function.
Echoing the advice of physician groups, including the Canadian Medical Association, the experts also advise against the use of antibacterial soaps.
3) Renovate right
If families are upgrading their homes, CPCHE recommends that pregnant women and children stay away from areas being renovated to avoid exposure to contaminant-laden renovation dust and toxic fumes from products such as paints, caulking and glues. Care must be taken to seal off the area being renovated from the rest of the home using plastic sheeting, and careful dust-busting is essential during and after any renovation or repair project.
Extra care must be taken in older homes. The paints used prior to 1978 contain high levels of lead, a toxic metal associated with learning and behavioural disorders. Even paints manufactured up until 1990 may have some amount of lead in them.
4) Get drastic with plastic
Parents can take protective action by being selective in their use of plastic products, especially when it comes to serving and storing food. The experts caution parents not to use plastic containers or wrap in the microwave, even if the label says “microwave safe,” as chemicals in the plastic can migrate into foods and beverages. Eating fresh and frozen foods whenever possible will reduce exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of most food and drink cans. BPA is associated with a wide range of potential health effects, including impacts on the developing brain. BPA is also a suspected “obesogen,” a term used to describe chemicals that may interfere with normal function of insulin metabolism and contribute to obesity.
The experts also caution about plastic products made of PVC, commonly known as vinyl, as it contains phthalates, a class of chemical plasticizers associated with diverse negative health effects. Although phthalates were banned from some children’s toys as of June 2011, they remain in many other vinyl products still on the market, such as bibs, shower curtains and children’s raincoats. The experts advise parents to discard older toys and teethers made of this soft plastic.
5) Dish safer fish
To reduce children’s exposure to mercury, a metal that is toxic to the brain, the experts advise choosing varieties of fish that are low in mercury, such as Atlantic mackerel, herring, rainbow trout, wild or canned salmon, and tilapia. If serving canned tuna, look for “light” varieties, as these are lower in mercury than albacore or “white” tuna. If you catch fish in local waters, check your province or territory’s advisories to see whether it is safe to eat, the experts add.
CPCHE’s new video and supporting print resources are available at www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca. The video was launched today (February 29, 2012) at a plenary session of the Best Start Resource Centre’s Annual Conference in Markham, Ontario.
For more information:
Randee Holmes, (905) 271-6129, (416) 358-0443; Randee@healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE, pronounced “kip-chee”) is a collaboration of environmental, public health, child care and physician organizations that are working together, across traditional boundaries, to advance the protection of children’s health from toxic chemicals and pollution. For more information: www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca