Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – dirty dishwashing liquids and the problem of “green-washing”

One would assume that “environmentally friendly” or “save for the planet” products would include safety and friendliness toward people but apparently not. Regretfully even “natural” or supposedly “organic” products contain toxins and it requires some vigilance as a consumer to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security by green packaging or claims. For example, most of us by now know to avoid Sodium Laurel Sulfate in shampoos, soaps and other skin products because it’s toxic. Beware of closely related cousins, however, like Sodium Laureth, which also contains two carcinogens.  Many products that now claim to be “SLS Free” contain the other SLS. The Mother Nature Network has a great post on this.

We were just dismayed to learn that we were blissfully washing bottle nipples and pacifiers in Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day liquid dish soap thinking that it’s 25% post-consumer plastic bottle and 97% naturally derived ingredients were acceptable. We were wrong – mea culpa for not checking the ingredients more closely. As it turns out that Mrs. Meyer’s liquid dish soap contains synthetic “fragrance” and toxic irritants such as Benzisothiazolinone. Seriously – I just almost went cross-eyed looking up these ingredients online. Who has time for this?!

It also contains sodium coco sulfate, which is simply a less purified version of sodium laurel sulfate. Both are coconut derivatives but go through the same process. Sodium coco sulfate hasn’t gone through as much testing and scrutiny and I’ve even found web sites that claim it’s safe enough. Here’s some more detailed chemistry on why that’s not true.

Out of pure frustration at the lack of suitable dish washing liquid readily available, I’m ordering good ol’ Dr. Bonner’s Organic Pure Castille Liquid Soap in Baby-Mild

A five year old could pronounce all ingredients and they are: Water, Saponified Coconut-Hemp-Olive Oils (with retained Glycerine), Aloe Vera, Olive Fatty Acids, Rosemary Extracts.

For the dishwasher, we’ve been using Seventh Generation Free & Clear Dishwasher Gel. The product claims:

  • Now contains enzymes for more cleaning power
  • Chlorine free
  • Phosphate free
  • Non-toxic
  • Plant-derived enzymes
  • Biodegradable formula
  • Scent derived from whole essential oils & botanical extracts (Lemon)
However, it’s ingredients also include methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone (synthetic preservatives), as well as well as PPG-10-Laureth-7 which is listed as having low to moderate toxicity. Sigh. It seems both Method Smarty Dish Dishwasher Tabs and Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Powder also contain a certain amount of synthetics but any of these three are better than the conventional options. By the way, I’m linking to Soap.com because the site has a 15% off coupon now for 1st and 2nd orders (codes are SOSOAP1 and SOSOAP2) + Free Shipping on orders of $25 or more. If anyone has a better recommendation for automatic dishwasher soap, please share!
POST SCRIPT: BabyGanics Dish Dazzler looks promising with a short list of natural (no, really) ingredients: Natural water softeners, Naturally derived water conditioners, Natural hydrogen peroxide source, Natural salts, Non toxic polymer and rinse aid, Non animal derived enzymes.
P.P.S. a friend from a new mom’s class I’m taking suggested Dapple automatic dishwasher gel, which is okay but has two concerning ingredients. The first is Acrylic Acid Polymer, which is classified as expected to be toxic or harmful according to Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. Is is listed as a moderate risk vis-a-vis Organ System Toxicity according to EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. The other ingredient is Lauramine Oxide, typically found in hair products, which is a mild irritant according to the International Journal of Toxicology. However, the safety of Lauramine and Stearamine Oxides have been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated scientific data and concluded that Lauramine Oxide and Stearamine Oxide were safe as cosmetic ingredients for rinse-off products under the present conditions of use. For use in leave-on products, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that Lauramine Oxide should be limited to 3.7% and Stearamine Oxide to 5%. How much does Dapple use? No idea. I’m sticking with the ingredient list a 5 year old can read and using BabyGanics.

BPA Tied to Behavior Problems in Girls

A quick note on this new BPA study highlighted by Fox News regarding BPA exposure in utero and its effect on girls. As noted in prior posts, BPA is thought to be an “endocrine disruptor.” While the EU and Canada ban its use in baby bottles, it’s still all too prevalent in consumer products and therefore our bodies. The study’s findings don’t prove that BPA exposure in utero causes these problems. The study’s author Joe Braun, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said that ”[i]t might be that women who are consuming more processed and packaged foods and more canned foods are also consuming less nutrients that are important for brain development,” for example.

However, the article states that “[t]here’s a growing body of evidence… that really seems to suggest what you’re exposed to and what happens during gestation can set you up on your life course,” according to Braun.

“The brain begins developing from very, very early in pregnancy. Disruption in development could have lasting effects across childhood and the lifetime.” Read more here.

Hospital hospitality

Apologies for the hiatus dear readers but I have a good excuse. Weighing in at 7 pounds, world please welcome Angus!

We couldn’t be more thrilled to have a happy, healthy baby. Our hospital stay was interesting – the nurses were amazing but when it came to the products, fabrics and gear we were surrounded by, we were a bit surprised at how archaic some of the practices were. The one nurse hip to our non-toxic goals rightly commented that the hospital simply strikes deals with the Enfamils and Pampers of the world to hook you on their stuff for the next 3 years or 3 kids.

If you’d like to avoid slathering your newborn in petroleum, wrapping him or her in polyester blankets and then taking a swig from your chemical laden plastic cup before nursing, then here are my top picks for suggested packing items. The hospital staff should comply with any requests you have regarding the care of your infant – you might find yourself educating a few nurses and doctors too! (Oh, and take a walk with the baby when the cleaning staff drenches your hospital room floor in bleach and consider opting for every other day on the toxic cleaning products.)

First, there is the famous “water jug” that all my girlfriends advised I pinch from the hospital to accommodate the ravenous thirst one feels post-delivery and while nursing. NOT BPA-free ladies! The studies regarding the negative effects of BPA on pregnant and nursing women are becoming more widely accepted and shared in mainstream media (see post on new study relating BPA exposure to Autism). Happily I had already ordered a few of these fantastic Copco water tumblers

These are great for hydrating and your favorite iced drink. BPA-free and environmentally friendly – the Starbucks people will thank you!

When your little tiger is born, the hospital staff immediately wants to slather petroleum all over his or her pristine little bottom. Instead, we love using Burts Bees Diaper Ointment

It’s phthalate, petrochemical and paraben-free and had the ladies in the hospital nursery a buzz asking why our little one smelled so good (it works well too!).

You’ll want to bring your own clothes and swaddle blankets. At 7 pounds, our baby was actually too small for many of the organic newborn outfits I had for him. We ended up stocking up on Petit Bateau’s new Bio line of organic cotton onesies. They come in newborn sizes 46cm and 50cm. 

Our 7 pounder has been in the 50 cm ones from birth through the last 3 weeks and still has room to grow. Finding these can be tricky so don’t be afraid to call your local store too. They’re made with organic cotton and vegetable dyes according to the company. Do yourself a favor and splurge on the kimono style ones for easy changing.

We found our aiden + anais  swaddle blankets indispensable, as well as the company’s burpy bibs that double as cloths. I also recommend Under the Nile’s organic burb cloths and wash cloths, which can be used as protection while changing boys, who generally like to hose you down whenever naked.

Finally, our favorite diapers (after trying Huggies Free & Clear and the heavily fragranced junk the hospital had) are Seventh Generation diapers for newborns. These diapers are free of chlorine processing, fragrances, latex and petroleum-based lotions. They fit wonderfully and we like to think of our little guy as cool for rocking the nondescript beige color while others are covered in Winnie the Poo or other company endorsements they haven’t been paid to advertise. 

Most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you how to take care of your own baby. Solicit advise if need be. However, nobody knows how to care for your little one better than you so follow your instincts!

On toxic plastics and baby gear

What are Phthalates?

Plastics permeate just about every facet of life for us now. Plastic is cheap and useful. It also creates dioxin when burned (= highly toxic, causing reproductive, developmental and immune system problems in addition to cancer), never breaks down and use huge amounts of natural resources.

Unfortunately, plastics have invaded our bodies too. Plasticizers are chemicals added to plastic for flexibility and durability. The main type of plasticizer is a group of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced “THA-lates”). In addition to being found in your mascara, nail polish and perfume, phthalates are mainly found in a plastic know as polyvinyl chloride or “PVC.” PVC is used in a myriad of products including baby toys, teething rings (!), food packaging and storage containers (those with the “Number 3” recycling designation). The chemicals can come off in your baby’s mouth or in the food stored in the container.

Why are they bad?

Phthalates are toxic chemicals classified by the US EPA as probable carcinogens. A carcinogen, of course, is something that by definition causes cancer. Recent studies have also shown that phthalates also have a hormone-disrupting effect. In both males (including in utero and newborns), they combat male hormones stunting the release of testosterone and the development of male characteristics, affecting things like penis size and the descension of testicles. (See What’s Toxic, What’s Not in References). In females, high phthalate levels have been linked to premature breast development. (See Super Natural Home in References).

What can I do about PVC in Baby Products?

The main source of PVC exposure to infants is likely teething rings, soft “vinyl” toys and crib mattresses. Look for toys that are labeled “PVC-free” or look for wood toys with non-toxic coloring. I’ve included a number of safe options in the Registry section. For teethers, I like Life Factory, Dandelion and the ubiquitous Sophie the Giraffe.

The Wooden Wagon has cute wooden baby toys that are finished with nontoxic colors.

One of the toughest categories for me to find safe products in was “activities.” After emailing a few manufacturers, including the popular and highly recommended Tiny Love regarding their playmats, bouncers and gymini, Tiny Love was the only one that gave me comfort. The company confirmed via email to me on 8/16/2011 that:

Our products meet all of the current regulations set forth by the CPSC, US and EU governments. Our products are free of BPA, PVC and Ph[th]alates. We also adhere to the new lead limit of 90ppm. Because our business is children we’ve made sure that our testing standards are higher than even the new California laws require, which are the strictest in the world.  I hope this alleviates any concerns you may have.”

Fisher Price (a division of Mattel), for the record, never responded and doesn’t list materials. I expect more from the maker of Barbie. I’ve included some favorite Tiny Love products (mobile, gymini, tummy time mat) in the Registry section.

For crib mattresses, I highly recommend spending the money for a 100% organic one like Naturepedic or the Serena and Lily organic crib mattress. These are not only free from phthalates but also chemical fire retardants frequently used, such as formaldehyde.

If you already own a crib mattress and can’t afford to replace it, try this Serendipity Crib Mattress Protector, designed to prevent the off-gassing of toxic gasses from mattresse, which has been linked to the origin of SIDS, Autism, Asthma and allergies.

More on PVC and safe alternatives in cosmetics and food storage coming soon!


A Okay with Aiden + Anais

It shocked me to learn that cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop due it’s incredibly high level of pesticides. Five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in this country are known to cause cancer.  I can’t even begin to guess what they do in other countries. While natural fibers are always better than synthetics, clearly organic cotton is better than treated cotton. Organic cotton can be much more expensive at times though and sometimes the things you really want are, well, not organic.

There is a happy ending in the case of aiden + anais though. Aiden + anais makes swaddle blankets, hooded towels and burby bibs in chic, playful prints.

Some of their products are “organic,” others are not and they are priced accordingly. The organic swaddle blankets retail for $26 each, for example, while the regular swaddles retail for $49.95 for a four pack. All are made from 100% cotton muslin, however knowing this discouraging truth about your average cotton, I felt guilty not spending the money for the organic ones. Turns out, no need to fret. I wrote the company to ask what the difference was. The classic cotton is relatively pure, it just hasn’t been Global Organic Textile Standard certified. Turns out that’s not the end of the world in this case. Here is the background I recevied via email from the aiden + anais Sales Coordinator & Customer Service Manager on 8/15/11:

“There is no formaldehyde, nor do we treat with flame retardant chemicals. There are no heavy metal traces and we use azo-free low impact dyes.

Our classic line cotton hasn’t been treated with pesticides and are not genetically modified, but unlike our GOTS certified our classic cotton has no certification.  Without certification, we cannot make that claim 100%- as that is what certification is meant for.

However, all of our products are tested by Intertek according to 

the CPSC’s requirements and are safe.”

Good enough. Register away ladies.

By the way, the burby bibs are genius because they have snaps and do double duty as a chic burb cloth and a bib. The sleep sacks are much more attractive than the fleece variations out there, most of which are made of toxic polyester. More on the dangers of polyester to come!