Let’s Talk Chemicals…

Red Powerade makes me cringe… as does Diet Coke, Splenda, Equal, anything processed (GMOs)… the list is LONG, but when I see a child drinking this noxious drink, as much as I try to restrain myself, I just can’t and a few days ago, I didn’t.

I just had to blurt to a friend– “You know your son is drinking brominated vegetable oil (flame retardant), High Fructose Corn Syrup (GMO) and Artificial Food Coloring (red dye)? Her rightfully, snarky response, REALLY MARA? AND YOU TELL ME WHAT DOES NOT CAUSE CANCER? WHAT IS NOT BAD FOR US? SO WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES HIS RED POWERADE REALLY MAKE?

Uhm…stutter…ergh…what to say? As much as my first instinct was to judge her complacency, she had a point and while apathetic, I realized she speaks for most Americans. Yeah, we know pretty much everything is bad for us, but seriously what can we do? Act all paranoid? Eliminate everything? Live the life of a monk? Stay frozen with that deer in the headlights look? Become obsessive worriers?

It often seems we are way too far down the rabbit hole, but have we really dug ourselves TOO deep?

I feel alone ranting against the FDA, the pharmaceuticals, the EPA and all the f#$%#ked up politicians all seemingly driven by money and power rather than public interest. My friends roll their eyes at me a bit or give that look of don’t get her started, but I know some of what I say seeps in…but, I do get it! I too have my moments where complacency is so much easier…in the short term.

I call these moments, my moments of prayer. Meaning, I suck it up, eat the delicious gooey GMO mess or the hormone, antibiotic laced meat and literally just pray that my body only receives the benefits of the food. And I do have many moments where I wonder why bother trying to stand on a soap box when so few seem to be listening. I have moments when I too need a break from what I am reading. While it is not all doom and gloom, most of what I read ain’t pretty.

And yet, fortunately for me and perhaps all of you, my moments of complacency, definitely felt this past month, were interrupted.

Last week I attended the Mount Sinai Hospital Annual Environmental Lecture.  While the overall lecture was pathetic– it was on stress and managing environmental toxins–the only thing they really discussed was the effect of stress on health and duh…we already know that. Yet, something was said that I needed to hear. It was a message destined for me.

“An informed citizenry is our best defense against toxicity.” 

No doubt, my wake up call.

Reinvigorated, I now realize even if I just effect one person or help one person to be more aware and informed, then I am doing my self-appointed job.

So to anyone else who needs a wake up call. Here it is. Be vigilant. Be very vigilant…


At the Mt. Sinai lecture, Dr. Philip Landrigan said something really important about chemicals during the Q&A. Why this was during the Q&A and not the main focus of the lecture, beats me?!!!

Here is a recap. Really absorb this message and you will understand why we can not afford to be complacent.

There are 85,000 synthetic chemicals registered for use, 3000 of which are widely used in consumer products like baby bottles, toys, carpets, furniture, cosmetics, plastic etc. These chemicals leech. No debate about this. The CDC randomly samples and on average they find at least 100 chemicals in each person tested. The kicker— the majority of these chemicals are never tested for toxicity! Thanks to the Toxic Substance Control Act  of 1976, in America, all chemicals are innocent until proven guilty. And since 1976, only 5 chemicals have been found…guilty and banned!!! That literally makes you, me and especially our children, one vast toxicological experiment. Only 5 chemicals out of 85,000 proven to be hazardous! Incredulous, right?

Check out the NRDC and join their Fix the FDA campaign. View the list of chemicals they are fighting to ban in the US such as BPA, triscolaran, lindane… http://www.nrdc.org/health/fda/. Then compare our tract record to Europe and try not to panic.

Conversely in Europe, since around 2007, chemicals are guilty till proven innocent–meaning European laws are MUCH MORE STRINGENT.

For example, many of our toys, nail polishes and other beauty products are made with plastic softeners and solvents called phthalates that the EU banned as reproductive toxins. Several of U.S. agriculture’s most popular herbicides and insecticides, including atrazine, endosulfan and aldicarb, are illegal or restricted to emergency uses in other countries.

And scarily our country is the dumping ground for goods that fail to meet such stringent laws for toxic chemicals. These products now line our shelves! Europe’s yuck is effectively our yum. Ok…perhaps panic, particularly if it compels you to raise your voice and do something about this travesty!

Change is seriously needed. Legislation exists, The Safe Chemical Act of 2013, but so does serious opposition and the leading proponent of this new law, Senator Lautenberg, recently passed away.  As you can imagine the powerful chemical companies and their lobbies (The American Chemical Association) fight legislation because (obviously) such legislation costs them money.

Or they manipulate the laws. See this recent article from The NY Post sounding the alarm on the level of phthalates (banned in Europe) in kids products. Unfortunately, the law distinguishes between a product considered a toy (strictly regulated, but still permissible) versus a non-toy product that is not. If you were a manufacturer what would you do? Of course, never label your product as a toy. Instead refer to your product as a school supply or something “other” despite the “other” still considered a product marketed or used by children.

Dr. Landrigan cited a recent study which estimates the costs of disease of environmental origin in New York’s children to be…. $4.35 billion  per year!!!! This is JUST IN NY!!!!!

There are many alarming articles to read on this subject and too many worrisome chemicals for me to be able to specify the toxicity of each one. However, recently the writing of NYT columnist, Nicholas Kristof, caught my attention. He consistently discusses one large category of toxic chemicals–  endocrine disruptors.

I am very grateful he is sounding alarm bells and particularly, in the NYTimes– the pinnacle of disseminating the truth… well maybe/sort of, but that is the perception…

Endocrine Disruptors



Kristof warns of endocrine disruptors. Our children are exposed to endless sources of synthetic estrogens that are wreaking havoc on their developing bodies. Hormones are the messengers to our cells. Mess with the hormones, mess with the messages. Early exposure only sets the stage for later problems and possible cancers, diabetes, ADHD, etc. Most frighteningly, the dose does not make the poison. Small exposure to synthetic estrogens is all it takes and right now in the US, they are very hard to avoid.

Endocrine disruptors can be found in pesticides polluting our food, soil and water supplies. Many topical creams we use DAILY and of course, plastic!.

I am sure you have heard of BPA, a chemical used in plastic– avoid buying canned food lined with an epoxy resin or BPA . Avoid microwaving or heating plastic. (It pains me to think of all the baby bottles I heated in the microwave!!))) Even avoid washing plastic in dishwashers. BPA leaches when heated. And shockingly, avoid touching cash register receipts as they are coated in BPA to help the ink adhere to the paper!! We love Purell in our country, however, FYI… the alcohol in Purell actually increases the absorption of BPA!! Finally, what really threw me, is that in our rush to go BPA free, nobody thought to question, if not BPA, then what?

What I discovered, BPA is often replaced with a cousin, BPS, which is 40% worse than BPA!!!  All the plastic tubing in hospitals and medical devices, even ones used on premature babies, are made with…BPS!! Also, do not be fooled by companies like Appleton papers who market BPA free paper products. They are made with BPS.

What to do– remember we need to start digging ourselves out of this hole….

When you can, always choose glass over plastic. I buy Mountain Valley Water. Those big 5 gallon jugs of Poland Spring are a cesspool of BPA! I buy glass food containers. Here is a link to my favorite.  I make sure to only buy water bottles that do not have BPA linings or I make sure the plastic is from a non-BPA/BPS source. I never buy canned goods except for the Eden brand, a pioneer in BPA-free. Instead they use Oleoresin, a mixture of oil and resin extracted from plants such as pine or balsam fir. I also always refuse receipts. I only wish I could warn all cashiers.

I also watch our choice of sunscreens. The active ingredient in most sunscreens, Oxybenzone, is a synthetic estrogen. Like food, cosmetics, and vitamins, you MUST READ SUNSCREEN LABELS!! Check out my article on sunscreens in case you missed it. Link here. I recently added an update…something that should be HEADLINE NEWS. The best, most effective, safest, cheapest sunscreen in the world… ORGANIC COCONUT OIL!!

This summer and recently in the Caribbean– in the blazing hot sun, I tested organic coconut oil (meaning it is pure and good quality) as a sunscreen. My friends thought I was nuts as I slathered on oil. I had read coconut oil has a natural SPF and thought why not? If it works, what a find!  The results: all summer, I never burned…in the Caribbean, no burn. A little tan, but no more than I would have with a regular high SPF sunscreen. My friends compared our tan lines and then asked to share my oil.

Another endocrine disruptor and the topic of Kristof’s most recent article is the rampant use of flame retardants in our country.


He tells the story of dizzying corporate greed and politics– like an episode of House of Cards… how these chemicals came into use thanks to the cigarette industry. So many were dying from cigarette fires. Rather than tamper with cigarettes, they instead lobbied for flame retardants in mattresses and furniture. However the truth…they do not work and instead cause a myriad of health problems such as cancer and reproductive issues. Disgustingly, they are also used in red, orange and yellow drinks to keep the colors from separating. ( I guess my red Powerade friend missed my article on brominated vegetable oil a.k.a. flame retardant. In case you missed it too…link here).  Kristof describes how flame retardant chemicals literally mix with dust, float off  furniture and enter our bodies, our kids bodies!!!! 

Take some time this vacation to watch Toxic Hot Seat on HBO. You will squirm a bit, particularly if you are watching from your foam based couch. Here is a little preview:

For more information, read the Environmental Working Group’s recent warning about flame retardants–http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2013/11/gym-foam-pits-filled-fire-retardants#.UoWi4EAHo50.facebook

Also, if you are in the market for a new bed, I did extensive research this summer. Of course, I only wanted organic. It had to be free of flame retardants, synthetic chemicals, pesticides and Formaldehyde. All of these off gas and if you have ever laid down on a memory foam mattress, you may have noticed an odor. I know I did at Sleepy’s. The salesperson said, “Oh, don’t worry, the smell goes away.” Well, the smell may go away, but that does not stop all the chemicals from being released over time in a place where we all spend the most time…OUR BED! According to Mother Jones, these mattresses release over 61 different chemicals. To read more…


Fortunately, there are many options, but be forewarned, read the fine print. Some “organic” mattresses were not so organic and to be safe, I chose latex Savvy Rest mattresses with organic cotton toppers. Expensive, but worth it.


Finally, if I have not raised your concerns enough about the daily barrage of synthetic estrogens, take a moment to watch this very informative Ted Talk by the mother behind the documentary Toxic Baby and a Berkeley scientist researching the pesticide, Atrazine. If synthetic estrogens are changing the gender and reproductive organs of frogs, can you imagine what is happening to our children?!

And to all my female friends and daughters… even with feminine care products, buy organic and yes, there are organic options. You can find them at Duane Reade and other local pharmacies.


Read these two articles to understand why you do not want pesticide laced cotton anywhere near your privates…



For further information, consult the Environmental Working Group. In many ways they are a private FDA doing the work our government seems to be neglecting. They extensively research chemicals in consumer products and generate yearly lists ranking products in terms of safety.

This is their latest article on formaldehyde in cosmetics:


Please share this post with friends and family and join the brigade of informed citizens. Learn to use your very valuable voice.

Like Do YOUR HOMEWORK on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter– @do_your_hw. I post daily. And to anyone else who may look at me and say REALLY MARA? I pray the response is, ok, what can I do?

Let’s together dig ourselves out of this mess. Start with awareness and then informed decisions.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and toxin free holiday and New Year!!

Leave a Reply