It’s all too easy, when we talk about toxic chemicals, to a project an attitude of “The sky is falling! Run for your lives!”
My friend Karen, who often leaves insightful comments, commented on my last post:
You are one of the most dedicated people that I know when it comes to prioritizing a natural, chemical-free “habitat” … but the tone of your post sounds almost alarmist. And since you are also one of the most rational people I know … the alarm in your post caught my attention … I admit I am developing “detox fatigue” for lack of a better term. To me it’s like the hamster wheel that you’ve mentioned. I’m on it, I’m running: organic meat and dairy (with some free range thrown in for sustainability), organic produce, nitrate-free meats, does my sunscreen have oxybenzone? It doesn’t, it has zinc but are the zinc particles too small? Could they be absorbed into my body? Should I not be using sunscreen and just get my vitamin D au naturale? What about my mattresses? The flame retardant! What about the waterproof crib sheet, … inhaling pthalates from that? … I cannot afford the level of detox that I feel I need… And the other thing is that all my research to decide what is sensational, meaningful, and scientifically sound is taking time away from interaction with my kids and my sleep. I just feel too stressed by the whole thing. I need to get off the hamster wheel.
Before we can continue with future posts on what we are doing to further detoxify our life I need to present a bit of back story as to why this issue is so near and dear to me. I, personally, have struggled with many health issues attributed to early chemical exposure, specifically early puberty, endometriosis, reproductive issues, and rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease). Two of my children have suffered from severe food allergies. Now that I have a daughter, my greatest fear for her as a teenager is not drugs or sex, but that she will have endometriosis, as I did. I remember the torture of endometrosis month after month. I missed school, dance lessons, and even the SATs writhing in agony from bits of misplaced uterine tissue in my abdomen. Now as a mother I am sure it must have been hell for my own mother to see me in pain over and over again and not be able to do anything about it. It is my fervent hope that Anna will never have to suffer as I did and I am going to do everything in my power to prevent that.
But I often feel as Karen does, suffering from “detox fatigue”. In this modern world we are constantly bombarded with reports of dire problems. Often those reports imply or downright entreat us to shop our way out of it. How many stories in the media have you seen that tell you about a “Terrible Problem!” and then tell you what you “need” to buy to solve it? We can’t buy our way into better health. We need to figure out a way to live in a way with as little toxic chemical exposure as possible on an ongoing basis. I am tired of constantly reading labels – standing in the aisles of Target feeling like I have to make a huge, important, potentially toxic decision when all I really wanted to do was buy my kid a cup that wouldn’t spill all over. And we keep being confronted with these decisions over and over again because new research finds new toxins and because, often, the products we buy aren’t all that durable and wear out quickly necessitating purchasing new ones.
I think the solution is to keep it simple. Just like food; where minimal processing is healthier and more economical than highly processed foods, we can apply the same standard to consumer goods, cleaning products, etc. For example, let’s say I need a frying pan. I could buy a non-stick coated pan. The safety of teflon coatings, specifically as those coatings break down over time and under high heat, is highly questionable. Manufacturers have come out with new “safer” non-stick cookware. But what will the research show about that cookware in 5 years? Furthermore, that non-stick coating, whatever it is, will eventually wear off the pan and then the pan will no longer be useful. And so we again find ourselves in the store, reading the labels on pans trying to determine what is safe, paying another $20 for a product that will, inevitably, wear out. Or, for the same amount of money, we could buy a cast iron pan. To be sure, there is more work upfront to “season” the pan before we can use it, but the pan is 100% safe and it will never wear out. If I keep them in good condition my great-grandchildren will be able cook on the cast iron pans I have. I can apply the same standard to the toys my children play with. All of our baby toys are either wood or fabric. We once had a few plastic baby toys and I tossed them due to breaking quickly or questionable safety (I researched, but it was basically impossible for me to find out exactly what chemicals they might or might not be leaching). Our wood toys are now on their third child of use and most of them look as new as the day they were purchased. When we are done with the baby raising phase of our lives I will put those toys away and I look forward to the day when I will watch my grandchildren playing with them.
Despite my deep concern over the effects of toxic products on our health I haven’t gone through the house in a panic, thrown out everything questionable, and then rushed to the store to buy supposedly safe replacements. Instead I am taking a methodical, thoughtful approach. This week I tackled toys and I will write about that process soon. Next week I plan to tackle kitchen items…and so on. And I am insistent that we think carefully about whether those items that get removed need to be replaced at all. If we do decide some replacements are necessary than I want to find some that are affordable, I can trust as safe, and will last a long time. My fundamental approach going forward is to ask “What do we really need?” (as opposed to want) and “What is safe, durable, and affordable?” (as opposed to “Is this unsafe”). I want enjoy my life; not spend all my time conducting research and worrying about safety. I don’t actually plan to do much research at all. If the answer as to a product’s safety isn’t obvious or easily obtainable then I am just going to pass on it. I want to be proactive, not reactive.
I am not naive about how much all of these efforts might matter. We could do everything “right”: eat only organic food, purge every single piece of plastic from the house, spend thousands of dollars on organic mattresses and bedding (just to be clear, we’re not going to do all of those things) and it might not matter a bit in the face of the exposures that we face simply by breathing in the polluted air and living in an environment with persistent toxic chemicals. But for the sake of my children and everyone’s children I am going to try my best to enjoy my life and create and maintain the healthiest environment possible.