A couple of days ago I went to search for some new pajamas for the boys. They are growing you see. And pajamas stay the same and although I buy based on need and not want, I am facing some severe consumer dilemmas lately. The pajamas I looked at were all fire-retardants, it said so on the label. I cringed thinking how many parents buy pajamas believing that’s all they buy. Fire-retardant means that the fabric has been treated with chemicals that should delay the flaming process should there be a fire. Emphasis on should. They affect children’s health before they do any of that though. Artificial fabrics do catch on fire a lot easier than their natural counterparts (wool, cotton) so all of a sudden the obvious question budges ahead of the line… Which fiber is best? But that’s not what I’m writing about today. It’s the idea of allowing chemicals like that to even come near our children.

I find it outrageous that we allow such things to be worn by our children. You see, I am the declared enemy of “invisible” pollutants that kills us slowly but surely. Flame/fire-retardants are among them. You can’t see see them, you can’t smell them and you cannot get rid of them.

It’s a story that’s unfolding slowly and right under our noses but somehow we’re missing it: Chemicals that are being added to our food, or they come with out food, chemicals that are being added to the things we buy (flame retardants and antibacterial substances.)  A few years ago I wrote a piece about xenoestrogens and how ubiquitous they are and how they unmistakeably affect our health.

The saddest thing is that the most affected of all population groups are… Care to guess? Our children; the ones who are already born and the ones to be born, because many of these invisible enemies reach the fetus. Our children’s growing bodies take in everything, and their effects are partially known (neither are good, in fact far from it!) and the sad kicker is that many of these substances accumulate in their bodies and whether they wreak havoc now or later, we know for certain that they do wreak havoc.

Another piece I wrote not long ago on bisphenol A (BPA) reiterates the story that could almost sound boring if it wasn’t so scary: We rely on chemicals such as BPA that make our life more convenient, and convenience drives extremely aggressive campaigns that sell more of that convenience, but in turn we are giving away our health and our children’s. Talk about a dirty sell out. Sure the BPA was banned from baby products but there’s a two headed monster trying to bite my fingers as I try to write this: Traces of BPA were found in baby bottles even after the ban, and since the BPA was not banned from as many products as possible, well, the infamous substance can and will find a way to our babies. As for “safe” alternatives to the big bad BPA, it turned out that the replacement (BPS) has equally deleterious effects.

The brain and the endocrine system are most affected. Irony has it that the effects are not immediately seen, which makes the whole problem a lot harder to solve. Starting with enough of us believing that we do have a big fat hairy problem on our hands.

Take hyperactivity in children. Most of us know about this frustrating state of being that our children wallow in and us parents wallow with them. It’s rampant we’re being informed periodically. Yet here I am rummaging through many studies on my invisible enemies and the fact that I come across over and over again is that most of these substances affect the brain and one is by causing hyperactivity. A very bad joke indeed.

How do we tolerate this? How do we let our children touched by chemicals we do not necessarily need and if we really do need some of them, we definitely do not need them in the insane amounts they are used nowadays. Moreover, we need to make sure that the guidelines set by the government are set with our best interest in mind and not to support industry giants that think of anything but people’s health. I wish I could say that part is taken care of, that we are in good hands. But it really comes down to knowing and acting on that knowledge.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair to not have transparency about these issues just like it is not fair to have biased studies that show no ill effects when in fact they are there. It’s the products we let our children sit on, play with, sleep on, dress in, and eat from, and of course, the food they eat.

A recent study that was published in Nature showed the effects of GM corn consumption on rats. Their bodies were deformed by tumors and while the non-believers argued that the rats used in the study are prone to tumors, there was also a control group that had fewer and less prominent tumors. The safety studies done on GM foods by companies like Monsanto are short, very few and the conclusion is predictable: GM foods are safe to eat. As with chemicals, we won’t see the effects right away. Problem is, when the effects become visible it’s too late to intervene or in case of some countries (already happening) it will be impossible to know which crop is which. Russian roulette anyone? Children eat corn and corn-derived products. It should not become their punishment.

There is no labeling because we’re not there yet somehow. How to then? The equation has a major unknown term: how much is too much? That children are more affected than adults is no debate to me, but feel free to bring your counter-argument forth and I promise to revisit. In the meantime, I reserve the right to shed as much light as possible onto the subject. More to come in future posts.

Now if you are tempted to come to the conclusion that the solution is buying organic and such, well, I’d say it’s a start but it’s barely enough. We need to do more and while buying clean is part of it, it works in conjunction with the rest of it. Such as becoming aware of what is happening around us, and as a consequence, putting out a big flat NO when it comes to providing our children with adulterated products and foods. Wondering in what kind of disheveled state they’ll be inheriting the planet once we’re done with it? That’s where we should start. If there is no or less demand from consumers, production of deleterious (yet convenient) goods will slow down and sooner or later die. It can be done, I strongly believe that, although it involves playing ball with the big boys who often times kick hard and mercilessly. Power is in number though, we know that already. For teh sake of our children it’s all worth it. It’d be a shame to fail them, too high a price.

As for the pajamas, I will not settle for any fire-retardant ones, just like I will not settle for anti-bacterial pillows either (they were on sale by the very colorful pajamas)… But that’s another good story that I will leave for next time.

Now I will go make some popcorn for the boys. GM-free and butter-ful.