My son Alex is almost 1, an age at which he puts everything in his mouth – especially his bath toys. When he happily munches away on a dayglo orange crab with big Bambi eyes, I’m always a bit nervous about microscopic plastic parts getting into his system.
We know almost nothing about the safety of the 80,000 consumer chemicals created since World War II. As the World Health Organization (WHO) states in a 2012 report (goo.gl/FZMZsx), “the vast majority of chemicals in current commercial use have not been tested at all.”
The chief concerns are endocrine disruptors, or chemicals with a molecular structure similar to our own hormones. They can alter normal endocrine activity by binding to the same receptors as the latter. Because the endocrine system controls just about every aspect of our health, children are at particular risk during their most sensitive growth periods – in the womb and at puberty.
JAMA Pediatrics published its own review of endocrine disruptors in 2012 (goo.gl/ntrPlu), which suggests that “efforts to reduce EDC exposure as a precaution among pregnant women and children are warranted.” Chemicals like BPA, PVC, and phthalates can contribute to infertility, obesity, cancer, and neuro-developmental problems such as behavioral issues and a lower IQ.
Parents can consult guidelines set out by the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety (goo.gl/GRYhrC) and the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (goo.gl/kQ6Pv3), which include:
Avoiding BPA, phthalates, and PVC. The Soft Landing, a professional childproofing company, has great product lists on its website, thesoftlanding.com.
Switching from plastic to glass food containers.
Using only polyethylene (or PE) wrap and never microwaving food with wrap on; it can easily leach into liquids, especially if they contain alcohol or vinegar.
Immediately transferring leftovers to glass containers, and never reheating or eating them directly from takeaway plastic containers.
Within the Plastic Coding System, choosing products with the numbers 1, 2, 4, or 5.
Using a vacuum cleaner outfitted with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
And Alex’s bath toys? The manufacturer assures that they are “BPA-free” and “phthalates-compliant.” That’s not super comforting, but the Soft Landing endorses them so I am letting him munch away – for now.
Need more info? Dr.Richard Saint Cyr is a family doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, and the director of clinical marketing and communications. He runs the blog www.myhealthbeijing.com.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
This article originally appeared on p25 of the beijingkids March 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com