9 Ways to Limit Your Family's Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Top Tips for Parents and Parents-to-be

Recently I was asked what advice I had for parents or soon-to-be parents who want to limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.

In putting together this post, I've thought long and hard about my response. I've been in those shoes and when you first try to learn more about toxic chemicals in everyday products it can be extremely time-consuming and overwhelming. And at a time in your life where you are already probably quite overwhelmed and short of time! This post is my advice for busy overwhelmed parents who want doable, affordable steps that will significantly limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.

Toxic Teflon: 10 Ways to Minimize Your Family's Exposure

To learn more about the story of toxic Teflon, read last week's post:
Toxic Teflon: How a Deadly Chemical Evaded Regulation and Ended Up inside 99.7% of Us

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) or C8 is an essential ingredient in Teflon and for decades was used in a huge range of different products (nonstick cookware and bakeware, pizza boxes, coatings for eye glasses, waterproof clothing, and stain-proof coatings for carpets, to name a few). Because of exposure through consumer products and due to exposure as a result of the disposal of millions of pounds of chemical waste into the air, water, and landfills, 99.7% of Americans have PFOA in their blood. (source 1)

Studies have tied PFOA to an incredible range of health effects throughout the body, often even at very low exposure levels. These health effects include:
  • ovarian cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • lymphoma
  • reduced fertility
  • arthritis
  • hyperactivity
  • altered immune responses in children
  • hypotonia, or 'floppiness,' in infants" 
  • ulcerative colitis
  • high cholesterol
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • thyroid disease
  • testicular cancer
  • kidney cancer
(sources 1, 2)

The story of toxic Teflon is a horrifying illustration of our broken regulatory system, and proof that consumers cannot rely on the reasonable assumption that if something were truly dangerous, companies wouldn’t be allowed to sell it.
In some ways, C8 [or PFOA] already is the tobacco of the chemical industry — a substance whose health effects were the subject of a decades-long corporate cover-up...And, like tobacco, C8 is a symbol of how difficult it is to hold companies responsible, even when mounting scientific evidence links their products to cancer and other diseases. (source 1)

While U.S. companies have participated in a "voluntary" (read "unenforceable") phase-out of PFOA, the not-so-different replacement chemicals industry is now using instead appear to be just as problematic. (source 3)

Does What I Do Matter?

In the face of this kind of information, it is easy to feel outraged but also helpless. However, I take the same stance with PFOA that I do with all other toxic chemicals I learn about. While I cannot eliminate my family's exposure, I can refuse to support these companies financially and minimize my family's exposure to PFOA (as well as the novel “fluorochemicals” that have replaced PFOAs in consumer products) whenever possible. Here are some ways to do that.

Toxic Teflon: How a Deadly Chemical Evaded Regulation and Ended Up inside 99.7% of Us

There is a prevailing sentiment among well-meaning people who don’t want to be unduly influenced by alarmists and worrywarts: if something were truly dangerous, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it. Unfortunately, this logical line of thinking has been disproven time and again as a result of our broken regulatory system. The story of Toxic Teflon, as recently laid out in The Intercept’s three-part series, is a horrifying illustration of this fact. 

DuPont Suspected Teflon Harmful for Decades

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid), also known as C8, is an essential ingredient in Teflon (first introduced in 1946). DuPont is by far the leader in PFOA use and emissions in the U.S. Due to recent court battles many internal documents from DuPont have been uncovered, including “write-ups of experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showing that C8 was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals…[and] hundreds of internal communications revealing that DuPont employees for many years suspected that C8 was harmful and yet continued to use it, putting the company’s workers and the people who lived near its plants at risk” (source 1).

Kids Need to Hear Good News about Environment

Recently I've been reading and writing about How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott P. Sampson. The chapter on "The Rewilding Revolution" included a passage that grabbed my attention:
"One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is an optimistic outlook on the future. Particularly for kids in early childhood, avoid negative stories about the natural world and the declining environment. This can lead to emotional detachment rather than caring. Recognize, however, that kids in middle childhood will likely be getting a doom-and-gloom message about the state of the world, even if it doesn't come from you. It's important to listen to kids' fears for the future, to respond honestly, and even to share your own fears. Equally important, however, is balancing any fears with positive, hopeful stories of change, stories that demonstrate how people are working to solve the problems, and how youths can be part of this critical work." (emphasis mine)

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Eco-novice's Top Picks for Reusable Lunch Gear (based on 3 years of rigorous testing)

I have children entering the first and third grades and after packing four-years' worth of school lunches (plus innumerable snacks and lunches for summer and weekend family outings), I'm ready to tell you my very favorite reusable lunch products.

When it comes to reusable lunch gear my top priorities are: toxin-free (or in other words, mostly plastic-free); durable; and dishwasher-friendly. There is no way I am going to hand wash my two kids' lunch gear everyday, so I put a very high premium on dishwasher-friendly containers. I also want some products that are truly leak-proof, and able to maintain temperature (so that I could send hot and cold foods).

Gluten-free Goodness: Whole Grain Pancakes for the Whole Family

Some for now, some for later (see double recipe below)

I am coming up on 6 months since I was diagnosed with Celiac and started eating gluten-free. And in that time I have found that some of my whole wheat favorites have easy and delicious gluten-free versions, and others don't. For example, bread. Gluten-free bread is a tough sell for me since I still remember well the deliciousness of my honey whole wheat bread and the airy crumb and crunchy crust of an artisan loaf.  But pancakes! My gluten-free pancakes are just delicious! If I do say so myself.

One thing I've quickly realized is that most recipes for gluten-free goods are decidedly not whole grain. But after spending years tweaking recipes to achieve deliciously healthy whole grain baked goods with wheat, I'm not willing to settle for the fiber-less not-hearty un-filling recipes full of starches and white rice flour that so often populate my search results.

After much searching and experimenting, I present to you this delicious recipe for whole grain gluten-free pancakes. If you hate weight measurements, I'm really sorry (and I did include a volume approximation just for you!), but I have already been thoroughly converted to baking by weight with gluten-free flours. I dug a decade-old IKEA digital scale out of my cabinet and have never looked back. I find it much easier to pour rather than scoop out when dealing with all these types of flour. Baking by weight makes doubling or tripling a recipe easy-peasy too.

Often gluten-free recipes will say, "use 1 cup or so many grams of gluten-free flours," and then provide a list of about 300 different gluten-free flours you might use. As a gluten-free newbie, I did not find this useful. I want a combination of flours that will work and taste delicious right now!  So this recipe prescribes specific flours in specific amounts, but of course you can and should substitute your favorite gluten-free flours (although the mysterious properties of buckwheat may be why this recipe needs no oil) or fudge the amounts and flours based on what you've got on hand, as I often do. But here is my favorite version so far. The one I keep coming back to.

From Tech-Lover to Nature-Lover: Using Technology to Connect Kids with Nature

Can Nature and Technology Be Friends? 

Kids' overuse of screens and underexposure to nature seem to go hand-and-hand. But given the fact that technology is here to stay, and most likely will always sing its siren song to digital natives, I think it's best to harness that power to turn kids onto things I care about, like the natural world! Here are 8 ways to use technology to increase kids' interest in and engagement with the natural world. These suggestions are especially relevant for tweens and teens, who are pushed toward ever greater technology use by both school and peers.

Protect Your Family with Safe Sunscreen by Goddess Garden {Review}

This post is sponsored by Green Sisterhood. All opinions are my own.

Get outside!

As parents, it is hard not to worry about all the things in life that could go wrong. Unfortunately, there are risks even to simply enjoying the great outdoors! Where I live we have to contend with West Nile Virus from mosquitoes, Lyme Disease from ticks, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, accidental injuries, and, of course, skin cancer. Most people know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., but what you may not know is that rates of skin cancer have tripled in the last 35 years. Sun safety -- covering up and using safe, effective sunscreen -- is especially critical for children, since serious childhood burns can double a person's chance of developing skin cancer.

So does this mean we should avoid spending time outside? Of course not! After all, the benefits of spending time outside (and the risks to spending too much time indoors) cannot be ignored either! The amazing benefits of time spent in nature include: reduced stress, better attention and cognition, better immune functioning, decreased anxiety and depression, and an extended lifespan! While time indoors exposes you to indoor air pollution as well as health problems associated with a more sedentary lifestyle. Recently scientists have even suggested that too much time indoors may be responsible for the rapidly rising rates of myopia (near-sightedness) in youth.

The solution is clear: spend lots of time outside (we aim for at least 30 minutes in nature everyday!) but be aware of and mitigate the risks. We come inside at dusk when the mosquitoes are out in full force. We check for ticks after hikes. We discuss with our kids how to recognize and react to rattlesnakes and mountain lions. Whenever practical, we cover up with long sleeves, long pants, and hats while outside. And during the sunny summer months in particular, we wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of effective & safe sunscreen. Because some sunscreens do not effectively protect against UV rays, and others contain toxic ingredients that may actually increase your chance of cancer and other health problems.

Choose a Safe & Effective Sunscreen

When selecting a sunscreen for my family, I look for the following:
  • Mineral or physical sunscreens rather than toxic chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens reflect sunlight and provide a physical barrier between you and the sun's rays while chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays. Chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone are also known endocrine disruptors.
  • Broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays damage DNA and cause aging, while UVB rays cause burns. Both types of rays have been linked to skin cancer. 
  • No nano-particles (generally considered to be particles smaller than 100nm). Many sunscreens that use mineral sunscreens utilize nano-particles to avoid the sunscreen leaving a ghostly white sheen on your skin. But there are health concerns associated with applying super tiny particles to your skin.
  • Free of harmful ingredients such as Vitamin A/ retinyl palmitate (which may actually speed development of skin cancer), fragrance, hormone disrupting chemicals, liquid plastics, and alcohols. 

Garden Goddess Organics sunscreens offer all the above and more!
Goddess Garden sunscreens use only mineral sunscreens, provide broad spectrum UVA/ UVB coverage, use only safe non-toxic ingredients, and are free of nano particles. In addition, they are
  • Certified organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO
  • Biodegradable and reef-safe (so important if you spend time in the ocean!)
  • Made with recyclable packing 


We have been using Garden Goddess Organics products for over a year. Last summer we used Garden Goddess sunscreens nearly daily for swim lessons, beach trips, hikes, and other frequent outdoor adventures. While wearing the sunscreen as advised (reapplying every 2 hours, or more often when in water), we never got burnt. It rubs in easily and does not leave any ghostly white residue. We love the convenience of the continuous non-aerosol spray and trigger spray for wiggly limbs ready to jump in the pool, run across the sand, or hit the playground. Garden Goddess makes the only safe and non-toxic sunscreen spray I am aware of, and it’s the only spray I have ever considered using. We use the tube lotions almost daily on our faces. The sport sunscreens offer 80 minutes of water resistance and are perfect for swimming and beach days, or active outdoor adventures that will involve lots of sweating!


So get outside and enjoy nature, worry-free! When you use Goddess Garden Organics sunscreen, you can protect your family against sun damage without any adverse effects on your family’s health or the environment.

Buy (with a discount!) Safe Sunscreen

You can try Goddess Garden Organics sunscreen yourself for free right now! Simply be one of the first 600 people to sign up for their newsletter. The first 100 people to sign up receive 1 oz tubes. I keep this size in my purse at all times, just in case I ever forget my regular tube. It is also a great size for travel! The next 500 sign ups receive free natural sunscreen sample packs (perfect for on-the-go!). Offers good while supplies last. Note: all free 1 oz tubes and sample sunscreen have been claimed.

You can purchase Garden Goddess sunscreen for 20% off now through July 31st with the code #SunSafeGoddess. Don't miss this chance to stock up for the summer!

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

30 Minutes in Nature Every Day with My Kids: Week 1 of the #30x30challenge

Can you spot the mating butterflies?

Last May I tried to spend 30 minutes in nature every day for 30 days with my kids, and we're doing the same thing again this May. (Read about the benefits of time in nature in this post.) Here is how we spent the first week of our 30 x 30 Nature Challenge.

Week One of #30x30challenge

May 1 we swam at a friend's pool. Not exactly time in nature, but close enough for me. It was in the 80s and the first day my friend's neighborhood pool was open.

May 2 we hiked in a nearby park. My kids are great hikers. Also, my husband and I are willing to put up with a fair amount of whining. My husband does occasionally have to carry my 3-year-old on his back or in his arms, but mostly all three of my kids (7, 5, and 3) are troopers. I am so glad we started them young before they knew better! On this day we hiked some new trails we'd never used before. We saw tons of butterflies, and even got to observe two mating . They held still for a long time and didn't move even when my girls got very close. When they closed their wings, they were nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding leaves (see close up at top of post). Before the hike, we went to the farmers market, which I also consider time in nature.

Citizen Science: 14 Ways Your Family Can Explore and Document Wildlife in Your Own Backyard

Interested in taking your family's engagement with the natural world to the next level? Check out these opportunities to participate in Citizen Science: a way for anyone of any age or ability level to participate in data collection for real science about the natural world. Whether you want to help save a species, enlist experts to help you identify plants and animals, submit data for real science, provide your child or students with a meaningful educational experience, or simply engage your tech-savvy child in the natural world, Citizen Science is for you! Note that most of these projects have related apps you can download for free. Quotations are taken from project websites.

My Favorite Way to Prevent Food Waste

Have you heard? Forty percent (40%!!) of food in America gets thrown away. Much of that food is tossed before it ever reaches consumers.

My favorite way to prevent food waste: shop at the farmers market.

One of the very big down sides of industrial agriculture is homogenization. This applies not just to the sharp decline in the number and diversity of varieties grown, but also to the accepted size and appearance of fruits and vegetables. Too large, too small, not spherical or cylindrical enough, slightly blemished. I read once that when citrus is harvested the fruit has to fit within narrow size and shape parameters so that the same quantity will fit perfectly together within each box. Those that don't fit correctly are tossed to the side, possibly recovered, possibly not. Many perfectly edible, nutritious, and delicious fruits and vegetables never even make it to stores because they don't fit the aesthetic or utilitarian standard.

Delicious Smelling, Small Batch Bath and Body Products from Herban Lifestyle {Review & Giveaway}

This post is sponsored by Green Sisterhood. I received products to review but was not compensated for the review. All opinions are my own.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, I have some fabulous bath and body products to share with you from Herban Lifestyle. The mission of Herban Lifestyle is to make the world a happier, healthier, better-smelling place! They are certified sustainable by Green America, Cruelty-Free by Leaping Bunny and is a Safe Cosmetics Champion.

Since bath and body products readily enter your body through your skin, Herban Lifestyle products are made with the highest quality ingredients: pure oils, essential oils, and herbs that are certified organic, pesticide-free, chemical-free, ethically wild crafted and/ or Fair Trade. You will never find artificial preservatives, synthetics, artificial fragrances, artificial colors, petroleum-based ingredients, or GMO's in any of their products.

Why I'm Giving Up Gluten (even though I love wheat)

So here's a little announcement for you. A couple months ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. While this diagnosis comes as a relief for many who have suffered from unexplained symptoms for years, I have no known symptoms and only had myself screened because my sister was recently diagnosed. So, not a relief. It has been quite an unwelcome adjustment for me in fact.

For years, I have made almost all the bread my family eats (mostly 100% whole wheat honey bread). I also have made pizza with a delicious 50% whole grain crust weekly for years. I love making and eating hot homemade breakfasts. I bake in bulk many healthy kid-friendly snacks containing whole wheat (healthy whole grain "cookies," chocolate chip snack bars, applesauce muffins) for quick, easy, and portable snacks for me and my kids.

I'm about 7 weeks into eating gluten-free, and, no, I do not feel much more fabulous. I actually felt very healthy and energetic before my diagnosis. But I still hold out hope that there will be some benefit to going gluten-free. Perhaps I will get sick less often.

Hello, Hunger

For the first month or so of eating gluten-free I was hungry. All. The. Time. No matter how much I ate. Thankfully, this phase is over. However, I am annoyed that I still need to eat more meat to ever feel full. Before my diagnosis, I was working on eating less meat and dairy, more grains, legumes, and vegetables. This whole Celiac business has really derailed that for the moment. I crave meat. How my vegan sister (diagnosed with Celiac just before me) is dealing with this new diet I have no idea.

If Al Gore Can Be an Optimist, So Can You!

Let's take a moment to reflect on some of the awesome environmental news that has come out in the last month. Hey, even Al Gore is feeling optimistic!

Decrease in Antibiotics in Chicken Manufacturing
In a big win for those of us seriously concerned about super bugs and antibiotic resistanceMcDonald'sCostco, and Tyson have all pledged to phase out chickens treated with antibiotics medically important to humans.

As Smog Thins in L.A., Dramatic Evidence of Kids' Healthier Lungs
Kids in the L.A. region "have substantially healthier lungs than they did just 20 years ago," mostly due to efforts to clean up So Cal's smog and soot. National Geographic says "it may be the biggest success story in environmental health in modern America." USC scientist Frank Gilliland stated "It's a very important message, especially for the developing world: These problems are fixable, and you can see big benefits."

3M to go green on pulp, paper purchases
3M, maker of post-it notes and one of the world’s largest manufacturers, will take new steps to ensure that its suppliers of paper, pulp and packaging provide materials that come from sustainably logged timber. What makes this huge reform of supply chain practices by a manufacturing giant particularly awesome is that it came about after relentless pressure from a little-known environmental group called ForestEthics.

For additional green good news about renewable energy, cutting food waste while feeding the homeless, transportation, wildlife, and carbon emissions, click here.

Cheap Plastic Toys Don't Inspire Ocean Conservation

Dear Monterey Bay Aquarium Manager of Merchandising,

We love the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Although the membership cost was a little steep for our family, my husband and I agreed that in addition to wanting our family to visit regularly, we also felt great about our money supporting the Aquarium's awesome mission: to inspire conservation of the oceans.

Through our regular visits, my husband and children and I are all learning a ton about ocean life, and most certainly developing a deeper appreciation of the ocean: its beauty, its enormity, its mystery, its diversity, its fragility. After visiting the Aquarium, our next trip to the library often results in us leaving with a tall stack of books about aquatic critters.

Eat Less Plastic: 33 Ways to Keep Plastic Chemicals Out of Your Family's Diet

Plastics, so convenient, so ubiquitous, so problematic. While it's probably impossible to eliminate plastics from your life entirely, you can and should try to keep them out of your food. Harmful plastic chemicals such as BPA and phthalates are in our bodies, and researchers believe they most commonly enter our bodies through ingestion via our mouths. But it's not enough to avoid BPA or other specific plastic chemicals. The absence of an effective toxic chemical policy framework means that toxic plastic chemicals (such as BPA) are often replaced with another untested chemical (BPS), which all too often is later found to be just as problematic (the so-called "toxic treadmill"). The issue is the undisclosed additives. As plastic-free living guru Beth Terry explained in an interview:
The issue is, it is impossible to know if any plastic is safe. In addition to the problems we know about, plastics can contain thousands of possible additives to affect the hardness, or softness, or slippery-ness, and manufacturers don’t disclose what their recipes are. The number on the container tells you what type of plastic it is, but it doesn’t tell you what else has been added to the plastic. If you don’t know what’s in it, you can’t tell what will leach out of it. The additives are not bound to the polymer, and when the plastic is subject to stress (light, heat) it can leach. (source)
As a 2011 study famously demonstrated, almost all commercially available plastics leach endocrine disruptors when subjected to common-use stresses, such as microwaving or the humid heat of the dishwasher. Recent studies have connected plastic chemicals to autistic behaviors, reduced sperm count, irregular heartbeats, and higher blood pressure. In fact, researchers recently concluded that "there is a greater than 99 percent chance that endocrine-disrupting chemicals [including BPA and phthalates, found in plastics] are contributing" to neurological effects (such as attention problems), obesity and diabetes, as well as infertility and other male reproductive disorders.

When trying to keep plastic out of your diet, keep in mind the following:
  • Children are more susceptible to health problems caused by plastic chemicals due to the fact that they consume a greater amount of food relative to their body weight and because of their rapid pace of development. The safety of children's dishware and foods should be top priorities. Because fetuses are also particularly vulnerable, pregnant women too should take particular care to avoid eating plastic. 
  • Fat, salt, acid, heat, UV light all promote the leaching of plastic chemicals into food. This is why if you leave your plastic water bottle in your car on a hot day, your water tastes "plasticky." It is also why canned foods that are acidic (pasta sauce), fatty (coconut milk) or salty (soup) contain higher levels of BPA. Naturally, plastic chemicals more readily migrate into liquid foods as well. This is why I pay special attention to how high fat, salty, acidic, and liquid food products are packaged. 
  • Styrofoam, PVC/ vinyl, PFCs (such as Teflon), and hard clear plastics (originally made with BPA and now the no-better BPS) are especially to be avoided. While all plastics are suspect due to undisclosed ingredients, these plastics are widely accepted to be harmful to human health. 

With those general guidelines in mind, here are 33 specific tips to help you and your family ingest less plastic.

The Best Potties for Early Potty Training

Early potty training isn't about never putting a diaper on your newborn. It isn't about getting your 9-month-old to pee every single time in a potty. It's about sometimes giving your baby an opportunity to do her business somewhere besides her diaper. And if you are interested in saving money, reducing landfill waste, conserving water and energy, fewer diaper rashes, wiping fewer poopy bottoms, or reducing your child's risk of illnesses, infections, constipation, or voiding disorders, then early potty training is for you! And it's as simple as taking off your baby's diaper and plopping her on the potty.

But you do need a potty. And you need a potty that is the right size for a baby. (Most potties are designed for toddlers.)

How to Prevent Early Puberty in Girls

Early puberty. A phrase that strikes fear in the heart of this mother of two young girls. I don’t think any parent wants her daughter to deal with breasts at the age of 6, or menstruation in the 4th grade. So several weeks ago, when I happened upon an interview with pediatric endocrinologist Louise Greenspan and clinical psychologist Julie Deardorff on the topic of early puberty in girls, I listened with great interest.

Eco-novice's Top Fourteen 2014 Posts

In case you missed them the first time around, here are the 14 most popular Eco-novice posts published during 2014. I'll list them from 14 to 1 (most popular) for maximum dramatic effect.

Eco-novice's Top Fourteen 2014 Posts 

And the most popular post published in 2014 was:


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