The chemical child

G Magazine

We wrap them up in cotton wool, so the saying goes… but what to do when that cotton wool comes drenched in chemicals and pesticides, as with so many other products today? We wade through the topic of just how toxic our children have become.


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While desiring to pass onto our children love and life lessons, we in fact pass on so much more. Studies have shown umbilical cord blood between mother and child to contain an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants. In current times where we live in contact with countless chemicals and pollutants and harbour them in our bodies, we are passing all of these on to our children before they’re even born.

Toxic transfers to our bundles of joy continue through breast milk, formula and food, along with medications and skin care products. (Breast milk is still far superior to formula, and the most natural choice for your baby.)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that over 40 per cent of the global burden of disease attributed to environmental factors falls on children below five years of age, despite children accounting for only 10 per cent of the world’s population. In the developed world, including in Australia, childhood cancers are increasing while the presence of asthma in young people is also escalating.

Chemicals are all around us. Chemical concoctions make up everything that we see, smell, touch and taste. We take them in through the skin, digestive system and through inhalation, as do our children. So how can we discern toxic chemicals from safe ones? “Toxicity is a relative thing. Some things are quite toxic, some things are slightly toxic. Everything is toxic if you have enough of it,” explains John Kalman from the Department of Chemistry at University of Technology Sydney. “People tend to think that natural things are good for you and artificial things are bad for you. That’s a dangerous concept,” reveals Kalman. In fact, all chemicals, both naturally occuring and synthetic can be toxic under certain conditions of exposure.

As trusting citizens, and through the persuasive power of advertising, most of us commonly believe that food, medical and cosmetic manufacturers have our vital health concerns at heart. But we neglect to remember that many of these industries are highly lucrative and sales come first. Research shows that for every one dollar spent on trying to improve the nutrition of the world’s population, $500 is spent by the food industry on advertising processed foods.

Furthermore, in a study by the US-based Environmental Working Group, 89 per cent of the whopping 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been fully evaluated for safety. In the past 30 years, only nine of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have been banned or restricted. The argument is that these chemicals are not worth testing as they are present in such small doses.

But Sarah Lantz, author of Chemical Free Kids disagrees. “We know some of the low dose chemicals, such as flame retardants and so many of the chemicals in our cosmetics, even at nano doses are causing hormone disruptions in our bodies. They certainly pack a punch,” she explains. “It’s the accumulative effect. Everyday we are getting massive amounts of low doses all the time.”

Children’s bodies are especially vulnerable to chemicals, as during development their detoxification systems are less mature. They are at higher risk of consuming toxins because they have higher respiration and metabolic rates than adults and the chance of accidental consumption is high.

Lantz is also concerned with our pill popping generation, and believes that we don’t look at prevention enough. Instead, over 50,000 children are prescribed with drugs such as Ritalin and Dexamphetamines of which the long-term health effects are unknown. “The binders and fillers and coatings surrounding medications are often very problematic and often haven’t been tested,” she says.

So how discerning should we be as parents? Where should we draw the line between informed decisions and alarmist behaviour? Lantz suggests everyday, practical steps and solutions, starting with the home environment. Looking after our child’s toxic levels means looking after the levels of toxins for your own body and your home too. “You can get all non-toxic cleaning and household products, personal care products and we can put furnishings in our house which don’t contain flame retardants, for example.” Although this may occasionally mean the slightly pricier item on the shelf, Lantz suggests prioritising your values as parents and tuning into your child’s constitution above all.

Eight tips for chemical-free kids:

Eating organic, unprocessed foods and avoiding the consumption of oral contraceptives, cigarettes and alcohol can prepare for a healthy child in the future.

Chemical Awareness

There are many chemical databases that are accessible online and in bookstores. Teach yourself to read labels and decipher the safe products from the harmful ones. To get you started learning what ingredients to avoid, try:
• Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database; www.cosmeticsdatabase.com;
• Safety Information Resources Database Material Safety Data Sheet; www.hazard.com/msds;
• One Group Chemical Ingredients Directory; www.healthylife.mionegroup.com/toxic;
• The Chemical Maze by Bill Statham; www.possibility.com.au

Home Environment

Use indoor plants to detoxify the atmosphere, use non-toxic cleaning products and consider using natural, non-toxic products for pet care and pest control as well.


Go organic by using natural, organic solutions to eliminate pests and insects in your garden. Cultivating produce in your organic garden will also feed your family with more chemical-free foods.

Building/Home Renovation

Use only natural products with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde substances such as recycled timber and bamboo. Choose bio- and water-based paints and avoid solvents like benzene and xylene as well as products containing lead.


Avoid packaged, processed foods, including baby foods, and opt for fresh, organic home-cooked varieties instead. Minimise your use of plastic wrapping, aluminium cookware and microwaving foods as much as possible.

Cosmetics and hygiene products

Consider using fewer products, but when necessary, be wary of claims that products are ‘natural’. Rather select cosmetics that are labelled ‘certified organic’ and that are plant-based. Fragrance listed as an ingredient can cause an allergic reaction.

Medication and vaccination

Educate yourself on your child’s diagnosed condition before medicating. Be aware that there are often side effects with prescribed drugs, including vaccinations. Enable lifestyle changes like exercise and diet in conjunction with medicine. Educate yourself about any recommended vaccinations and find out what’s in them; choose only vaccines that have a greater benefit than risk.

For further information and advice, G recommends the book 'Chemical Free Kids' by Sarah Lantz (Joshua Books).