I read an article in the New York Times last week that completely freaked me out; it was about new parents who are taking non-toxicity to the extreme by purging their households of anything with dangerous chemicals in it.
And I’m not just talking about plastic containers and cleaning products. I’m talking about wall stickers, fire-retardant pajamas, mattresses, particleboard furniture, fragrant shampoos, rubber ducks, fabric softeners, carpets, computer casings, foam inserts made before 2005, and plastic shower curtains.
By the time I finished reading, I needed a paper bag. Not because it’s non-toxic and recyclable, but because I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t breathe.
I consider myself to be a fairly well-educated person, and I try to stay on top of the latest health concerns, especially where my children are involved. So when reports arise involving toxic chemicals and their links to asthma, cancer, and other diseases, I pay attention, and I make changes accordingly. I’ve replaced all of my plastic containers with glass. I threw away my non-stick pans in favor of stainless steel. I use chemical-free laundry detergent and I switched to non-toxic wood floor cleaner and vinegar-based glass cleaners. I buy organic produce whenever possible, and I try to avoid canned foods. I thought I was being pretty responsible. But holy cow, I had no idea how much I was missing.
Apparently, there are websites where you can find out the safety ratings of household goods, and books that warn you of the dangers of all kinds of everyday items. And once you have that information, you’re left with a choice: you can ignore it, and continue spraying air freshener around your house even though you know it has phthalates in it that might disrupt your son’s sperm levels later in life, or you can make yourself insane trying to keep tabs on the toxicity levels of every item that might potentially come into contact with your kids. But it occurred to me that there’s a third option, too: you could just bury your head in the sand and not go to any of those websites or read any of those books, and keep doing exactly what you’re doing. This, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, is the current plan that I am on.
You see, I know myself, and I know that if I start researching this in more depth, I will never, ever, ever, sleep again. And while this may sound like a rationalization, the truth is that I don’t have a newborn who is under my watch 24/7, and I can’t control what my kids come into contact with on a daily basis. I mean, I don’t know what kinds of cleaning products are used at school, or at the ice rink where my daughter takes her skating lessons. I don’t know what my kids are eating when they sleep over at their friends’ houses. And I don’t know what’s in the carpets in hotel rooms, or whether the chicken used in the chicken fingers they order in a restaurant was fed an all natural diet. And yes, I suppose I could try to find out, but I already have a job, and I don’t need another, full-time one.
The reality is that we live in a world that is loaded with chemicals. According to that New York Times article, some studies suggest that there are currently 143,000 substances being used in global commerce. And that’s about 142,975 more than I’m willing to stress about. For me, all I can do is try to take a common sense approach. Common sense tells me that spraying things into the air is generally not a good idea, so I try to avoid that. Common sense tells me that the fewer products I use on my kids’ hair, bodies, clothing and bedding, the better off they probably are. And common sense tells me that if I have a choice between plastic or something else, the something else is usually the safer choice.
For some people, that might not be enough, and I now know that there are websites and books aplenty to appease them. But I learned a long time ago that obsessing over things I can’t control will get me nowhere but really, really, tired. And the truth is, that kind of obsessing is probably unhealthier for me and my kids than most of the toxins out there anyway.