Another reason to skip Triclosan – Microbes play a crucial role in human health?

I read a compelling article in the Washington Post discussing the advances in microbial research and human health. The article started with a sentence designed to make you reach for a hand sanitizer – of the average person’s 100 trillion cells, only about 1 in 10 is human. It then went on to talk about the unique microbial ecosystems that help us live and may well explain why one person suffers from any number of diseases and another does not.

The article discusses how our microbial systems – acquired beginning at birth – may help “steer normal development, molding immune sysetms and calibrating fundamental metabolic functions such as energy storage and consumption.” These systems may explain why one person gets cancer and another doesn’t.

Yet, we don’t understand these systems yet. And, our rush to use antibiotics, antibacterials, and heavy cleaning chemicals and even electric Caesarean delivery of babies may be disrupting nature’s balance, leading to a host of disease.

So, I was really struck by that the article just gives one more reason why not to use an unneccessary antibacterial such as Triclosan.

And I was also struck by the suggestive evidence that the use of antibiotics during pregnancy, as children and in our food may be leading to obesity. The research suggest that antibiotics may be killing off the bacteria needed to regulate the hormones which are key players in regulating metabolism, hunger and a sense of fullness.

And, I was also struck by the statement that one finding from the recent research is that babies born through Caesarean sections apparently miss out on acquiring their mothers’ microbiota. This may lead to certain diseases, such as perhaps asthma. This should be fodder for those women fighting for vaginal delivery after a Caesarean, and should at least be considered by those considering elective Caesarean delivery.

But I guess what mostly struck me is that you really can’t monkey around with Mother Nature.

Citizens for Health Launches New Website FoodIdentityTheft.Com

I received a PR pitch today from a company representing the national non profit Citizens for Health touting a newly launched website,, targeting deceptive packaging on food. And while I was a bit bummed I didn’t get the same pitch as The Bloggess, I did want to let you know about the new website. It is another resource to keep us informed about deceptive or misleading food labels. So go check it out.

Right now, the website is focused on issues involving high fructose corn syrup, products that call themselves “Blueberry” but contain no blueberries and misleading labels involving tomato products. The primary focus is on the efforts of the Corn Refiners to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to corn sugar to make it sound better, but the website promises to address other deceptive food labeling issues. I found the blog posts the most interesting, particularly the blog post entitled Fresh isn’t alway what you think it is . . .

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature – GMO Corn & The Rise of the Superbugs

You really can’t fool Mother Nature.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction frequently explore the impact of our tinkering with our world, resulting in devastation and illuminating the folly of men. The currently popular Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just one example.

In our real world, people fear resistant super bacteria – and many have reduced or eliminated the use of triclosan containing antibacterial soaps because they promote such resistant super bacteria and, for household uses, are no more effective than conventional soaps.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are another potential problem. Generally speaking, a genetically modified organism is an organism which has genetic material added to its genome to achieve certain traist or characteristics. I personally try to avoid GMO products. In my garden, I do not buy or plant any GMO seeds. When grocery shopping, I try to steer clear of GMO products.

I do understand that there are arguments to support the use of GMO. But, I think we need to proceed with much more caution. The recent news report that some GMO corn crops are being eaten by a resistant rootworm is a bit, well, troubling.

An Iowa State University researcher’s paper indicates that western corn rootworms in at least four northeast Iowa corn fields have developed a resistance to the natural pesticide in Monsanto’s GMO corn – the a pest that the GMO corn is supposed to thwart.

Monsanto’s GMO corn seed is herbicide-resistant, which means that farmers can blanket their fields in herbicide and kill everything but their food crop plants. Monsanto also developed the GMO corn seed with a gene that produces a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1 (the natural pesticide referenced previously), which kills the rootworm but is otherwise allegedly harmless. Or so we like to think.

But now, an Iowa researcher has found fields with rootworms resistant. The fear is that the resistance will spread. Monsanto’s GMO corn seed with the gene producing the crystalline protein was so successful that it’s estimated that roughly a third of U.S. corn now carries the gene. Meaning that the rise of the resistant super rootworm may be coming, causing problems for those corn crops.

More problemmatic is that if one bug can develop resistance then it seems likely that others will too (just like the resistant bacteria). And we will continue to seek to tinker with Mother Nature to develop that super crop, resulting in more and more super bugs.

But you can’t fool Mother Nature for long.

Greenwashing – Westcott KleenEarth Scissors with Microban

I was trying to find some information on whether Microban shows up in recycled plastic items. If you aren’t familiar with Microban, Microban is a tradename for various antimicrobial technologies used in consumer products. Microban in plastic used to mean triclosan, but many Microban technologies have been developed so whether the Microban is all triclosan in plastic is hard to tell.

But, in any event, I was curious whether recycled plastic items can have Microban in them if Microban was in the source plastic used. In my searching, I came across Westcott’s KleenEarth scissors for kids which use recycled plastic in the handles and recycled plastic in the packaging. And there are a bunch of different products in this line, all with Microban. BUT, the recycled plastic handles are treated with Microban. So doesn’t that completely defeat the green, earth friendly message? What do you think? Greenwashing at its finest?

As I explained in my post from yesterday, I think I’ll skip the unnecessary Microban containing products.

Back to School with Microban?

This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival on Back to School. Be sure to go check out the round up post at Mindful Momma with lots of ideas on going back to school – in green style.

My take on going back to school is pretty close to my good friend Lynn at OrganicMania. You can avoid back to school shopping by remembering to repurpose and reuse. I try to limit new purchases – although the reusable lunch sacks do get pretty worn out each year. So my kids get one new item each year. And I try to purchase with purpose – we don’t even get our class lists until after school starts, so I refuse to buy anything until I know exactly what my kids actually need.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t looked at the back to school merchandise when shopping. And boy,  has the use of Microban technologies in school supplies proliferated this year! If you aren’t aware, Microban is a broad range of antimicrobial technologies that are designed to protect products from microbes. Microban technologies do not protect the user of the product from disease causing microorganisms (if Microban International was making such claims, it would be subject to certain regulatory requirements and would have to have proof to support the claims).  Microban technologies are built into the product during the manufacturing process.

What is actually used in the particular Microban technology in a particular product is difficult to discern. It is generally understood that Microban in plastic includes triclosan, a chemical many of us are trying to avoid. But you don’t know for sure. Microban has many different technologies it is using now, including zinc and silver technologies, so the average consumer can’t really tell what formulation is being used in any particular product.

But what is being used begs the question. Why exactly do we need Microban technologies in our binders and other school supplies? It seems like a completely unnecessary use of a chemical. If I need disease prevention, then I should be wiping down the binder and encouraging my children to wash their hands. The Microban technology added to it isn’t going to protect my child from disease – good old handwashing with warm water and soap will do that.

So why the heck are we seeing Microban technologies added to so many products? Because we seem to have a fear of microbes. A completely unnatural fear of microbes. And we think the solution is some antibacterial germ killing chemical, when all we really need to do is wash our hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, rubbing vigorously. That’s it. And it doesn’t take antibacterial soap or antibacterial products.

So how about for back to school we skip the Microban technologies and send our kids to school with some castile liquid soap?


#ecowed Twitter party – Spring Cleaning: Creating a Toxicant Free Home

I’m so excited for this week’s #ecowed Twitter party! We will be talking Spring Cleaning: Creating a Toxicant Free Home with our sponsor ecomom and some very special extra guests, including mother-daughter team Corey Colwell-Lipson and Lynn Colwell from Celebrate Green, Lisa Frack and Senior Scientist Becky Sutton from the Environmental Working Group, and Beth Greer from Super Natural Mom.

Spring always makes we want to clean, organize and start fresh. This #ecowed party will focus on how to undertake that spring cleaning and create a toxicant free home. Tweet with me @thesmartmama and our sponsor @ecomom and @ecomomkimberly to learn some tricks and tips for creating that toxicant free home and be sure to share your own tips.

Also, Social Media Manager Lisa Frack and Senior Scientist Becky Sutton from the EWG are also joining us with their expertise. Make sure you follow @ewgtoxics to learn from Lisa and Becky. And, go check out EWG’s 10 tips for non toxic spring cleaning.

Beth Greer, holistic health educator, radio talk show host, and certified Build It Green professional will also be joining us. She is also the author of Super Natural Home: Improve Your Health, Home, and Planet–One Room at a Time. Make sure you follow her at @supernaturalhome.

And, finally, we’ve got Lynn and Corey, authors of Celebrate Green. Make sure you follow @celebrategreen on Twitter.

Don’t forget to enter ecomom’s $75,000 Healthy Home Makeover contest and check out ecomom’s blog with daily giveaways.

We will have great advice for going non toxic and prizes to boot. That’s right – we’ve got three $25 gift certificates to the ecomom website and a grand prize $100 gift certificate to ecomom. Prizes will be randomly drawn from those who join us during the #ecowed Twitter party using the #ecowed hashtag. Get an extra entry by leaving a comment on this post about how you create a toxicant free home or a question you have about creating a healthy home.

So join us at 7 pm Pacific on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, using the #ecowed hashtag. If you aren’t sure how to join a Twitter party, just read about it here. And if you want some tips for reducing toxic chemical exposure, don’t forget you can always check out my book – Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure

New Study Shows Eliminating Canned Foods & Plastic Food Packaging From Diet Significantly Reduces BPA Levels

A peer reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives provides evidence that eliminating canned foods and plastic food packaging from your diet can dramatically reduce the concentrations of bisphenol A (BPA) and DEHP metabolites in your urine. And what it really means that if you are concerned about exposure to BPA and DEHP, you can do something about it. The study was conducted by scientists at the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute.

BPA is used in virtually all canned food and beverage linings and is also the basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic, which is used for food and beverage storage. If you want more information on BPA, you can check out my post on the basics of BPA. BPA is associated with endocrine disruption in animals and in some human studies. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an update on BPA in which it agreed with the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health that there is “some concern” about the potenetial effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children. Many scientists and researchers, however, are much less reserved when it comes to the safety of BPA, particularly for infants and fetuses, and urge complete avoidance of BPA in food and food contact items.

DEHP is a phthalate commonly used to soften PVC plastic. It can be found in some plastic packaging used for food. It is also linked to endocrine disruption.

The study involved 5 families, with a total of 20 participants. In the study, over a 3 day period, the families ate food that was prepared and stored with minimal canned foods or plastic food packaging. During the three day period of minimal canned food and plastic packaging a caterer prepared and delivered food, avoiding foods packaged in plastic and canned foods. Urine samples were collected before (on days 1 and 2), during (on days 4 and 5), and after this “fresh food” diet. After the “fresh food” diet, the families returned to their normal diet, and urine samples were collected on days 7 and 8.

The urine samples were analyzed for BPA and 7 chemicals that assess for exposure to 5 different phthalates – DEHP (used in some food packaging), DEP, DBP, BBP and DMP.

The study results showed that while the families were eating the “fresh food” diet, their BPA levels dropped on average by more than 60%. For the three metabolites that were used to measured exposure to the phthalate DEHP, all 3 dropped by more than 50% during the “fresh food” diet. When the participants returned to their regular diets, BPA levels increased to approximately the pre-intervention levels.

So, what does this mean for you? That you can reduce your exposure significantly to BPA and DEHP by making dietary adjustments:

  • Choose fresh, frozen, dried or glass jarred over canned foods.  Canned foods and beverages are a major source of BPA exposure for most people. As the study demonstrates, by eliminating canned foods you can significantly reduce your BPA exposure. There are some BPA free canned goods out there, such as Eden Foods canned beans.
  • Choose baby bootles, sippy cups and other food storage and serving pieces that are not made of polycarbonate plastic.
  • Choose soups, milk and soy milk packaged in cardboard “brick” carton or glass.
  • Skip water from those 5 gallon polycarbonate plastic bottles.
  • Skip certain plastic wraps which can be PVC. Plastic wrap was first made of PVC. And, PVC remains the most common in food wraps used in catering and other commercial applications. However, many of the leading plastic wraps used in the home have switched to a PVC-free wrap, including Saran Premium, Glad Cling Wrap and Handi Wrap. They are made of low density polyethylene.
  • If you buy soft cheeses and other products wrapped in a plastic wrap, remove the wrapping when you get home and store in glass or similar plastic free storage.

The complete study, entitled “Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention” by Ruthann R. Rudel, Janet M. Gray, Connie L. Engel, Teresa W. Rawsthorne, Robin E. Dodson, Janet M. Ackerman, Jeanne Rizzo, Janet L. Nudelman, and Julia Green Brody is available online.

Green Moms Carnival – Hope Springs Eternal

This post is part of this month’s Green Moms Carnival. Our topic this month is “hope or despair” and was inspired by a story of a man indicating he would use a gun to protect his food crops. You’ll have to head over to the Big Green Purse blog post on the carnival to get all the details.

At first, I was going to talk about the hope I see in my kids’ faces. They are growing up to be stewards of the environment, and that gives me hope.

But I had a bit of an epiphany right before I sat down to write this. And my epiphany grew out of the news coverage about the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, particularly the worldwide reports of fears over radiation. I read a news article that radioactive isotopes from Fukushima Dai-ichi had reached British Columbia and realized that the terrifying fear that radiation from the plant could spread worldwide might just be a catalyst for people to realize that we are completely interconnected when it comes to the environment.

Completely interconnected. And if people realize it, that what happens overseas means consequences here, then perhaps the same people will make the connection that mercury from power plants on the United States’ East Coast can indeed pollute the Pacific Ocean, or that improper disposal of electronic waste in Africa can cause harm, or any of the myriad of other issues.

And that gives me hope. (By no means am I trying to make light of the the earthquake and tsunami, or the resulting suffering).

Hope that it isn’t too late for us all to realize that our individual actions or failures to act affect people thousands of miles away. Every single time you choose a plastic disposable bottle of water over putting water in a reusable container is a choice that will affect somebody or something. Just look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch if you don’t think disposable plastic is an issue.

Those proud, brave, heroic workers that are trying to fix the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant should inspire all of us to do better, to be better stewards, to take better care.

And that gives me hope.

Revisiting Lavender and Tea Tree Oil & Breast Development in Young Boys

Okay, so I’m reading Samuel S. Epstein, MD’s new book Healthy Beauty: Your Guide to Ingredients to Avoid and Products You Can Trust to review it.  (BTW – If you buy the book from the link, I get some change, and I mean just a little bit of change, because it is linked through my Amazon affiliate account). This isn’t the review because I’m not done with the book yet.

Nevertheless, I got a little annoyed at a paragraph in the book. And when I get annoyed, I am compelled to blog.

Why did I get annoyed?

First, because a citation wasn’t right. The citationwas in Chapter 5, endnote 36, which was the wrong reference. It should have been endnote 37. Okay, no big deal (I shouldn’t even quibble since my own book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, has some typos not to mention a big mistake in the summary on the back cover). But the fact that the citation was wrong leads to the second reason. 

So the second reason, and the more important reason, is because lavender and tea tree oils are presented conclusively as posing a “hormone disruption dilemma.” Dr. Epstein writes that they cause breast enlargement in young boys. Which is why I was even looking at the citation to see if there was some new medical study other than one from several years ago, which I talked about in a blog in 2008.

And there isn’t one cited – just the same article as before. And that article – a brief report – links lavender and tea tree oils to prepubertal gynecomastia (breast enlargment) but it isn’t conclusive. Also, it isn’t clear whether the products contain true lavender and tea tree essential oils, or synthetic versions.

The article cites 3 incidents of enlarged breast development. The first case reported using a compounded “healing balm” containing lavender oil with no more information. The second case reported using a styling gel and shampoo containing lavender and tea tree oils, but no information on a stay on skin product. The third case reported using lavender-scented soap and intermittent use of lavender-scented commerical skin lotions, both of which may well not have been lavender essential oil but a synthetic lavender scent.

Now, laboratory testing has confirmed that lavender oil and tea tree oil possess weak estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities. So I don’t dispute the possibility that lavender and tea tree oils may be linked to unwanted breast development in young boys.

But it is a possibility. And I think that it is more honest to state that it is a possibility, instead of scaring people. With the information that it is a possibility, many may choose alternative skin creams and lotions that don’t contain such ingredients.

Lucky Kids Mag – Missing the Point – Organic Onesies and Vinyl?

Okay, so I received a copy of the new Lucky Kids Magazine. And it does not purport to be a parenting magazine, but, just like its parent, Lucky Kids is a shopping magazine for kids.

So, I wasn’t expecting all that much really in terms of green or natural. I mean, a shopping magazine is really at odds with the whole going green concept. Consumerism is at odds with the going green concept.

But, well, I admit surprise. There is a cute section with etsy finds – and I love supporting the primarily small crafters. I love etsy.

The toy story section has some of my all time favorite toys – all soy crayons, Crayon Rocks, from Stubby Pencil Studio and Hanno the Gorilla – as well as some cool toys I hadn’t found before, such as handmade wings (how cool! although wondering if the plated charm passes the CPSIA . . . )

But, I was struck by the MiniSpy page, which picked out the best organic onesies and then also recommended wall decals as “the ideal way to give personality to a kid’s room.” Hmmm.

Y’all know those wall decals are almost always vinyl, right? That’s right. Vinyl, as in polyvinyl chloride plastic. Somtimes referred to as the most toxic plastic.

And, if those lovely vinyl wall decals aren’t children’s products – that is, intended for children under the age of 12, they may have lead in them. Now, before you tell me your kids won’t lick the wall decals, keep in mind that lead in a vinyl doesn’t like being in the matrix and will migrate to the surface, particularly with exposure to light, heat and/or friction. And then can come off as lead contaminated dust.

Is it enough to be a risk? I can’t say, but lead exposure is additive, so coupled with lead contaminated dust from older homes, lead in our water, lead in soils from lead’s long use as a gasoline additive, our kids get more than enough lead already. They don’t need it from wall decals.

If lead isn’t used to stabilize the vinyl, then you could have maganese, or cadmium, or some other metallic salt. Vinyl must be stabilized.

Also, since the wall decals are toys or child care articles, they aren’t subject to the CPSIA’s phthalate ban. That means that hormone disrupting phthalates can be present since phthalates are used soften vinyl.

So why recommend such a product on the same page as organic onesies? Yuck.

And my next post will talk about the sunscreen recommendations . . . .