Archive for August 2012

Drinking Water Quality Confirmation   1 comment

One of the tasks recommended in The Complete Organic Pregnancy to do before getting pregnant is to have your water tested. For city dwellers served by a community water system the primary concern, unless you have taste and odor problems, is lead. I, however, had made the decision that I didn’t think it was worthwhile. I read the annual Consumer Confidence Reports produced by my water agency, and so I know that there aren’t any major concerns with the tap water that I receive relative to drinking water regulations. The concern for lead in water is due to leaching from pipes. Since we live in a house that was built in 1979, I’m not worried about old lead pipes anywhere in my tap water distribution system. Hence, feeling that there just wasn’t enough reason to pay for a tap water test. Then I actually got pregnant, and had a very strong fear about being wrong in my assumption. Considering how much unfiltered tap water I drink (that’s all I drink at home), it could add up to a not-insignificant exposure of my unborn baby to lead. So we had our water tested.

I feel lucky that I’m an environmental engineer and so to some degree this is what I do for a living, because I found that there’s just no good detailed information available online for typical laypeople. There’s a circular string of links talking about testing your tap water for lead without ever describing HOW to do so. Everybody just links to the EPA drinking water pages, which could certainly be more complete. The lab where we got our bottles did provide a one sheet printout describing what to do, and confirming that the sampling method I planned to use was correct. I’m not even sure how an average homeowner would find a lab; I used a local lab that I have used for work, and that is certified under the state laboratory certification program. For lead we wanted a first flush sample: the water that first comes out of the pipes after sitting for several hours. So first thing in the morning I turned on the kitchen cold water tap, let the water run for a few seconds and then filled my bottles. I put them in a box with ice and delivered them to the lab on the way to work. We sampled the kitchen tap because we really don’t ingest much water from the bathroom taps, and we only sampled cold water because we only use cold water for drinking and cooking (to avoid increased risk of contamination in hot water from pipe leaching or crud in the water heater). First flush samples are a worst case scenario for lead and copper because there is more time for leaching from the pipes. To be thorough we could have tested all three sinks, collected samples after the water had been running for a while in addition to first flush, and collected both cold and hot water; but that would have really been overkill.

And the results are (drumroll, please): good! Lead was not detected at the laboratory reporting limit (the lowest level at which the instruments can reliably detect and measure the concentration). Copper was detected at 88 parts per billion, relative to the EPA’s level for no adverse health effects of 1,300 parts per billion.

I also had our water tested for disinfection by-products, compounds like chloroform and dichloroacetic acid that are created in the process of drinking water disinfection (usually by chlorine), for my own curiosity. Again, our results were good with no compounds detected above the laboratory reporting limits. I did not test for chlorine itself because I know that there is a residual concentration in tap water. Water agencies are required to maintain a chlorine residual in order to ensure that the water stays disinfected all the way to the tap. I already have a chlorine-removing filter on our showerhead so that we’re not breathing massive amounts of chlorine while showering, and I’m not so concerned about chlorine right now that I want to deal with the hassle of filtering our water. Maybe some day I’ll collect a couple samples to confirm that the chlorine filter in the shower really works, but today I choose to stick my head in the sand at the possibility of exaggerated marketing.

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Posted August 30, 2012 by mayakey in environment, home, pregnancy, water use

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Safety First, Without Compromising Other Values   Leave a comment

This is one of my procrastinations out of fear right now: there are a number of purchases/tasks when preparing for a baby that are safety related, but for some of them I’ve been afraid that I would have to compromise other values that are equally important to me. The biggest one hanging over my head is the issue of car seat. In order to keep my baby safe in the car, I have to accept the health and developmental risks of exposure to fire retardants, stain repellents, and possibly carcinogenic volatile organic compounds? Based on all of the car seats that I’ve seen in people’s cars, I have no reason to think that I’ll find one that is both safe and healthy. I’ve been afraid to find out. Until today, that is, for this post when I finally did a search online and found that it is correct that I cannot have my cake and eat it too. Healthy Child Healthy World had posted about a press release from Graco that they are phasing out toxic flame retardants, and mentioned that a couple of other manufacturers have already committed to doing so by the end of 2012. (So does that mean I’ll be able to buy one before Baby comes?) But there’s no mention about the stain repellants, or the VOCs that may be offgassing from the foam (this is my biggest concern). Not that a car isn’t already a low air quality air space, but I’m really irritated that I have no choice to put something that may be offgassing something objectionable inches from my baby’s mouth. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Aargh.

At least I can be a little bit more hopeful about a stroller. After explaining my rant to a coworker the other day, she got curious and did a search and found several purportedly environmentally-friendly stroller options. I haven’t studied the list she sent me, but I have hope. At a glance it looks like there may actually be strollers on the market that are made from fabrics that haven’t been coated in known or potentially toxic chemicals, and that aren’t 100% unrecycleable plastic.

One warning that we were planning to ignore was that of not using a secondhand crib. We had an offer to use the crib from someone that I trust to not put their baby in something unsafe. But then they got pregnant again before we did. Then a few weeks ago a coworker offered me a secondhand crib from his family. I did express some skepticism based on the ages of his children, but didn’t rule it out offhand. He crawled up into the attic and measured slats and got a description of it for me, and then I went to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website. The conflict that I have with this issue is the idea that a piece of furniture has to be disposable and can’t be reused. I went back and forth a bit as I read the information on the CPSC website. It has a drop side, but that can be immobilized; the slat separation is fine; it doesn’t have cutouts or fancy carvings. BUT it has been sitting in an attic for 10 years. That’s what ruled it out actually, the idea that after 10 years of summer attic heat and winter moisture the expansion and contraction of the wood has almost certainly reduced the structural integrity of the crib with no realistic way to fix it. Eh, so we’ll buy new and use it for both kids. I can wait several years before becoming conflicted about what to do with it when we don’t need it any more.

The most recent safety vs. health issue to be clarified is sleepwear for children. I’d previously seen mention that kids sleepwear is required by federal regulation to be treated by fire retardants. I’m sorry but if there is flame close enough to a baby that fire retardants might make a difference, the problem is already hugely out of control; and I’m skeptical that they would really make a difference if there is flame that close anyway. Back to the CPSC website for me. Turns out that under age 9 months there is no requirement for treatment with fire retardants, and after that they just have to meet a performance standard. So snug fitting sleepwear, or fabrics that don’t easily catch fire may not be treated, and can be labeled as such. Or we can just not buy anything marketed as sleepwear after 9 months and make sure that whatever it is is snug fitting and poses no strangulation hazard. Easy workaround.

Posted August 20, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, mission, pregnancy, shopping

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Figuring Out How Important Organic Fabric Is For Baby   3 comments

One of our first decisions to make in the preparations for Baby is our(my) fabric type preference. It’s an interesting decision because it’s the first where I have to make a decision for my child that is separate from the decision I made long ago for myself. For myself I insist on organic natural fabrics. Natural fabrics are plant/animal: cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk, and to some degree fabrics derived from bamboo or trees. Organic means grown without pesticides. A small amount of synthetic fibers is ok when stretchiness is needed/useful. It’s been almost a decade since I bought anything that was not made of organic natural fibers with the exception of running gear and secondhand clothing. It’s interesting suddenly finding myself in lots of synthetic fabric secondhand maternity clothes. So itchy! I am committed to organic natural fibers or secondhand for myself due primarily to my desire to reduce pesticide usage and impacts on workers and the environment.

But what about Baby’s wardrobe? The situation is different. We need a “full” wardrobe immediately and don’t have years to transition a wardrobe piece by piece from conventional to organic. And while I’m not growing and can plan on wearing any given piece of clothing for 10 years or so, Baby’s clothing will last weeks or months before needing to be replaced. We need to balance financial cost and environmental cost for baby clothes, and other fabric baby stuff. I’ve been mulling this over for a few weeks now and here’s what I’ve decided.

Natural fabrics are a must; synthetic fabrics are to be avoided whenever possible. In my own experience natural fabrics are just SO MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE, and I really don’t need to clothe my baby in plastic. This should be easy for clothing, blankets, and such. However, things could get a little more complicated when we get to car seats and strollers. Stay tuned.

Untreated fabrics are an absolute must. I’m not so worried about dyes here, but treatments like urea-formaldehyde, fire retardants, and any of the other multitude of treatments applied to fabrics in our world. So that means no pajamas, since my understanding is that all clothing marketed as pajamas for babies in the US must be treated with fire retardants. That means no permanent press (treated with urea-formaldehyde). Anything else that might have some kind of treatment can be washed several times before use to try to remove it.  Again, though, things could get a little more complicated when we get to car seats and strollers, so stay tuned.

But what about organic? As near as I can tell there isn’t a concern with pesticide residue on the cotton fibers since the pesticides partition into the oil in the cottonseed instead of the fibers. But there’s just so much at stake that at first I don’t want to take any chances. Newborn babies are still doing so much developing that could be affected by any trace exposure. So I’m thinking that for the “newborn” phase I’ll play it safe with organic cotton, but then relax a little and get secondhand clothes for a while. My preference is organic, but I just don’t see the point of buying new clothes that will be worn for a month or two and then replaced. As long as it’s not permanent press, several washings should be good enough. After the first year I’ll have to figure this out again, I guess. I didn’t like hand-me-downs as a kid. But as an adult I just can’t actually bring myself to walk into a conventional retail store and buy conventional retail clothing for anyone at all, let alone my family.

Posted August 9, 2012 by mayakey in organic, personal care, shopping

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Safe Chemicals Act Moving On Up?   Leave a comment

As I caught up on my blogroll today I discovered great news: the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee moved the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S847) up to the full Senate! For the last few years my hopes (along with countless others) have been so high that the 1976 Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) would finally be amended to provided needed modernization. Not that TSCA hasn’t done a lot of good over the last few decades as far as regulation of nasty chemicals/classes of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, and hexavalent chromium at least. But there are just so many chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions. There are so many chemicals that bioaccumulate in tissue, most especially human tissue since we’re at the top of the food chain that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions. There are so many chemicals that are persistent in the environment, taking significant time to degrade, that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions.

I have long believed in the Precautionary Principle, and long desired better regulation of chemicals. I define “better” as regulation of chemicals where human health takes priority over corporate bottom lines. Being pregnant heightens the desire. It’s too late for my baby. Baby is at its most vulnerable now since it’s doing all that developing completely immersed in my contaminated womb, and after birth won’t be that much better with still high exposure compared with body weight and development rate just from my contaminated breast milk. Sad but true. Baby’s worse off than I was because the world is more contaminated and by a greater variety of chemicals today than 34-35 years ago.

For all that I believe strongly in the Precautionary Principle, I have to admit that I’m not a supporter of the push to ban BPA. As far as I’m concerned we just can’t go about this one chemical at a time. Plus, if we ban BPA does it get replaced by something more or less toxic? Does that significantly reduce estrogenic activity in those consumer products? BPA is not the only estrogen-mimicker that we are exposed to. On the other hand, we need what the Safe Chemicals Act would do: not allow use (unless an exemption is received) of chemicals that are or may be “known, probably, or suspected reproductive, developmental, neurological, or immunological toxicant, carcinogen, mutagen, or endocrine disruptor”, or “persistent and bioaccumulative”. Manufacture of chemicals that are found in tissue or environmental media at concentrations above what naturally occurs or chemicals that are manufactured or discharged in extremely high quantities would also be restricted. Now that is what I’m talking about!

Posted August 1, 2012 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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