When it comes to being green – it’s been a slow and steady learning curve in our household. Like everything else in life I really and truly believe that everything must be done in moderation. I know that our children will inevitably be exposed to toxins and carcinogens (as we were and continue to be as well) so I try not to let that stress overpower my days or cause me to live a life of fear and anxiety. That being said I think there are simple and smart choices we can make to limit the bad and absorb the good when eating, drinking, cleaning our homes, and caring for our bodies. Over the years we have moved towards only organic milk, meats, and eggs (we try to avoid hormone exposure) – and when possible I opt for organic fruits and vegetables too (no thank you pesticides!). That being said my kids eat their fair share of junk food – and we slather on whatever sunscreen we can get our hands on. We pick and choose the “green” endeavors that feel viable in our home. Hopefully this post will help you to hand pick some changes that make sense for your family in the future.
In order to make really smart change we need really smart information. Today we hear from Alex Bergstein, a mother of three who lives in Greenwich. She is also a full-time doctoral student at Yale’s School of Environmental Studies. Her current doctoral work explores issues of children’s environmental health from a regulatory and policy perspective. I hope you’ll all garner some nuggets of knowledge from the research she has done. I admire her dedication to healthy living for herself and her family.
Q&A with Alex Bergstein, Chair, Greening Our Children 2014
Can you explain to our readers how/why you got involved with the “green” movement?
I was always interested in protecting nature – at 9 years old I told my parents I wanted to be an “environmental conservationist.” But after practicing law and starting a family, my interest in the environment became more personal. As a mother, I intuitively understood that the artificial substances entering my baby’s body could harm him in some way — from the chemicals in food and cleaning products, to the stain remover I used on his laundry. Since I didn’t have sources of information at that time, or a community in which to discuss these concerns, I tried to learn on my own. It wasn’t until I heard a presentation by Dr. Landrigan, at the first Greening our Children lunch in 2007, that the metaphorical lightbulb turned on. He explained that the rising trends of chronic diseases in children – from Autism and Diabetes to Obesity and Cancer – were directly linked to the exponential increase in synthetic chemicals to which we are exposed daily. Most people don’t think about where these chemicals reside and how their children are exposed, but it’s every parent’s obligation to protect their child from harm. Knowledge is Power.
Why does it matter that people pay attention to the products they use in their homes and on/in their bodies?
The cosmetics, personal products and household cleaning products sold in the U.S. today are not tested for safety. Safety testing of ingredients in these consumer products is not required by law. People can falsely assume products are safe because they don’t have immediate or visible reactions to them. But that assumption would defy the growing body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the link between low-level exposures to common chemical ingredients and an array of adverse health outcomes in children, including but not limited to: neurological impairment, lower IQs, learning disabilities, Autism, reproductive defects such as undescended testes, lower fertility, early puberty, higher body mass and obesity. What people are exposed to early in life imprints them for disease later in life.
What is the Greening Our Children initiative and who does it help?
GOC is a community of dedicated parents who are concerned about children’s health and want to do better for their families, schools and communities. GOC raises money to fund the critical scientific research at the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Care Center. The money raised by GOC in 6 years has been leveraged into more than ten times its value in grant funding from the NIH. NIH funding is the gold standard for scientific research – the most competitive, difficult to obtain source of funding, but also the most coveted and credible. CEHC is the undisputed leader in the field of children’s environmental health research.
In addition to funding innovations in research at CEHC, GOC is dedicated to educating families about how to prevent chronic disease. Chronic diseases include Autism, Alzheimers and Cancer, in addition to Asthma, Diabetes and Obesity. Most of these disease can be prevented or mitigated by reducing early life exposure to harmful toxins during critical window of development — from gestation through adolescence. GOC derives its recommendations on how to avoid toxins from the best sources — the scientists themselves. We believe everyone should have access to the truth about what they’re buying, and not be deceived by advertisements suggesting products are healthy when they may be anything but.
If someone is interested in making their home toxin free – what are the top five products they should toss first?
I would recommend that people make the following easy changes first:
1. Replace all plastic food and drink containers with glass or steel. Stop drinking water from plastic bottles and fill your own reusable container with clean, filtered water (installing a water filter is inexpensive).
2. Buy organic produce, dairy and meat whenever possible. Avoid processed foods, and anything made with artificial color or High Fructose Corn Syrup.
3. Replace all “anti-bacterial” products with regular soap, which is just as effective and does not contain endocrine disrupting substances.
4. Replace all non-stick cookware with stainless steel, ceramic or cast iron.
5 . Stop spraying pesticides — in your homes, on your lawns and on your children.
6. I have to add a sixth one — read the labels of ALL your household products and replace anything that lists “Fragrance” or “parfum” as this is code for any number of chemicals including phthalates that can lower children’s IQs and cause behavioral problems.
Which foods are best to buy organic? Does it really make a difference?
Eating organic absolutely does make a difference. Studies done on real families that switched from a conventional diet to an all-organic diet showed that in just three days the levels of pesticides in their blood dropped significantly.
For produce choices, you can refer to EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. But I find it’s easier to just buy whatever is available organic.
Any favorite all natural skincare/haircare lines?
Acure – skincare and personal care
Original Sprout – great family-friendly line of shampoos and body care
Babo Botanicals – sunscreen for kids and family
How can we address the topic of being environmentally friendly/conscious with our children?
I believe in talking to my kids openly about these issues. I ask them to read the labels of the things they want to consume. I’ve told them so many times how bad High Fructose Corn Syrup is that they avoid it now, even when I’m not looking (I think). I try to take the intellectually curious approach, rather than using scare-tactics or issuing absolute bans. My kids are teenagers so they can feel the difference in their mental and physical performance when they make poor choices and when they make good ones. We’re trying to teach them life skills, and being aware of how substances make you feel not only in the moment, but also a few hours later and the next day is a valuable skill. For me, it’s all about Continual Learning . . . and Practicing Prevention.
What will the “Greening Our Children” event be like this year?
The GOC event will be fun! It’s a casual but chic “early summer BBQ” with ALL organic food, wine and cocktails. Where else can you get that at a benefit? Guests will love the Green Expo – a curated exhibit of 25 of the best companies offering the safest, cleanest products and services. The Expo includes everything from organic foods and mattresses to personal care products for men, women, children and babies! Guests will also enjoy the Tesla Outdoor Showroom – where they can learn about and test-drive the world’s most coveted electric car.
During the dinner program, guests will learn from the top researchers what they need to know to keep their families safe. We’ll also have a Live Auction of 6 unique Green Experiences!