Today’s children are exposed to a more toxins than any generation in history. But there are ways to lighten their ‘chemical load’:
Public enemy no.1: tobacco
Make your home a strict smoke-free zone, and keep your kids away from any smoky environment. There is no question that second-hand, environmental or 'passive' tobacco smoke is a health hazard, and it’s absolutely unacceptable to light up around children.
If you have kids and still smoke, you may want to add the following to your list of reasons to kick the habit: there’s even evidence that smoke from people having a cigarette immediately outside a building can still find its way indoors; also, smokers carry toxins inside on their clothes.
Good habit No.1: hand-washing
Teach children to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, and explain why. Discourage them from putting dirty fingers in their mouths and noses.
It’s also not a good idea to have kids wander around with food – they tend to put it down on dirty surfaces and then back in their mouths.
Don’t swop dirt for toxins
It really is possible to keep your home clean using fewer, and less toxic, cleaning products. Check supermarket shelves and health stores for environmentally friendly alternatives. (As a good rule of thumb, if it’s better for the environment then it’s better for you too.)
Consider making greater use of hot (just boiled is best) water and steam cleaners. The sun is also a potent disinfectant, so let it shine in, and give your cleaning sponges, cloths, brushes etc. regular exposure to it. Microwaving sponges also disinfects them well – they need to be wet and microwaved on high for two to four minutes.
Pesticides don’t harm just pests
Do you really hate insects that much? OK, maybe you do, but keep in mind that pesticides are likely to be far more of a health threat than the average household arthropod. Cockroaches, for example, are not a health risk except in a few cases where they can trigger asthma.
Instead of reaching for a can of Armageddon, remember there are other options: mosquito screens and netting, and simply keeping your house scrupulously clean of all food scraps and residues.
Keep the bad stuff outside
Shoe-soles bring toxins and dirt from the outdoor urban environment onto the floors where children play, so swap your shoes indoors for socks, bare feet or slippers, and have a doormat that gets used and cleaned regularly.
Control dust and debris levels at home, and keep play areas and toys clean and washed regularly. Wet-wiping floors and surfaces may be a better option than vacuuming, if you have an old vacuum cleaner that tends to blow the dust about. Dust on the ground is a lot better than dust airborne, where it can be inhaled and swallowed after settling on food, hands and surfaces.
Keep on the grass
Playing on grass is generally better than soil or dusty surfaces. Planting over bare patches is preferable too: it keeps the sand in place and helps dilute toxins in the soil.
In general, keep kids away from busy roads and industrial areas whenever possible. You should be particularly diligent about avoiding these environments too if you’re pregnant. When choosing a new residence, or school, the level of pollution in the area and the proximity to industry should feature in your final decision.
What about plastic?
Plastics are so ubiquitous it's impractical to try to avoid them - and in many cases unnecessary. It's a good idea to follow this rule though: avoid heating food or drinks in plastic containers. When heated, some plastics leach toxins that may contribute to problems like reproductive and hormaonal disorders and cancer in the long term.
Plastic water bottles are fine, and fine to re-use a few times, but rather don’t wash them in very hot water, as this might cause some breakdown of the material.
Arm them with sound nutrition
A nutritious diet, rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat dairy helps prevent toxins, like lead, from being absorbed into the body, and strengthens your child’s immune system.
Certain toxins build up in fatty animal tissues, so cut down on high-fat animal foodstuffs. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products, remove fat from meat and choose lean cuts. You can provide more of your children's protein needs by substituting grains, pulses and nuts.
The less processed foods are, apart from being less nutritious, the less likely they are to contain unnecessary, and potentially unhealthy additives.
Go organic. At least occasionally. It’s expensive, but certified organic foods are grown without pesticides and herbicides.
Consider having your water and painted surfaces tested for lead, particularly if you live in an older home. And, if you’re concerned that your child may have been exposed to lead or another specific toxin, ask your doctor about tests to check toxin levels.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth, Health24, February 2007