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7 Tips to Ensure A Less Toxic World

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Hard to believe that our nation's "Toxic Substances Control Act" has NOT been amended, updated or improved since its inception in 1976.

I guess our repeated exposure to toxic chemicals isn't high on our government's list of urgent issues. Perhaps it's time to change that perception. Particularly now as momentum is building for everyone involved to act with total accountability around the worst oil spill in our history.

Thanks to my friend Christopher Gavigan, author and CEO of the non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World, I am now aware of legislation in the Senate (announced by US Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey) to overhaul this obsolete law. The new act is called the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2010." Its goal: to protect our health and that of the environment.

I don't think there's a parent who doesn't have concerns about untested chemicals and his or her children's well-being. I recently read that our old chemical regulatory system has only restricted five chemicals out of a reported 80,000 that are registered. As a result, article after investigative article proclaims that chemicals are tied to the possibility of causing of cancer and other health problems. That stinks.

If passed, the new legislation intends to identify and reduce our exposure to chemicals we know to be toxic to our systems. It will phase out what the industry calls "bioaccumulative toxic chemicals" that build up in our bodies and cause mayhem. The bill will endorse more "green chemistry research" to develop safer chemicals to do the same job as the crappy ones.

Additionally, the legislation calls for higher levels of accountability for those companies that defy these safety measures. Lautenberg says that "Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue." He's absolutely right.

While this battle is being waged on our behalf in Washington, D.C., Christopher and Healthy Child Healthy World have seven important (and affordable) tips for creating a healthier and non-toxic life for yourself and your children:

1. Eat intelligently. Organic foods are one of the best investments you can make for your child's health. They can be more nutritious and sourced closer to home than non-organic foods, and are typically in season -- but can cost a bit more. Prioritize wisely. Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene recommends purchasing these organic foods in order to reduce the greatest chemical exposures: milk, potatoes, peanut butter, baby foods, catsup, cotton, apples, beef, soy and corn.

2. Embrace natural beauty. Ever read the chemical ingredients listed on your shampoo or lotion? Not an easy task. Sixty percent of what goes on the skin is absorbed into the body -- so avoiding chemicals here is super important, especially for pregnant moms. You will reduce your family's chemical exposure by opting for products made with natural and organic ingredients. Or you can even make your own! For a rich body moisturizer, combine one-half cup coconut oil with one-fourth cup cocoa butter, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Protect your baby's skin with a little olive oil, which also prevents rashes on his bum. At the first signs of redness, bathe your baby in warm water with a little baking soda or apply a small amount of aloe vera gel.

3. Detox your nest. Home cleaning products often have harsh chemical ingredients that require words like "warning" or "danger" on the label - totally at odds with an intention of maintaining a healthy home. Safely opt for effective, non-toxic cleaning products for the laundry, surfaces, dishes and baths. Many are no more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Or go old school and clean the way our grandparents did: with common kitchen ingredients. Baking soda is great for scouring. White vinegar diluted with water magically cleans windows and counter-tops (killing bacteria and odors as well). The acid in lemon juice fights grease and mineral scum.

4. Breathe clean air. Many people associate the smell of bleach or synthetic air fresheners with cleanliness. But, the smell of clean is actually scent-free. According to the US EPA, indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. In addition to using nontoxic cleaning products, just opening your windows for a few minutes every day to let in some fresh air will do wonders. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Growing houseplants also helps filter and detoxify your air while bringing a bit of the outdoors in. Turn on the exhaust fan or open the window when showering and cooking at the stove top with gas. Remember to clean and replace your heating and AC filters regularly -- these trap the germs and chemicals you don't want recirculated in your home.

5. Take playtime back to the basics. Having a child shouldn't mean turning your whole house into a toy box. Kids are better off without piles of plastic play things, battery powered gizmos, and all sorts of complicated gadgets that profess to make them smarter. Simplicity is better for your child's imagination, intellect and health -- and, yes, much better for the planet. Stick to toys made from natural materials like solid wood and organic textiles, and opt for non-toxic art supplies and recycled papers. Use items you already own as playthings like cookware drums or sock puppets, and visit our website for a quick video on how to make homemade play dough.

6. Ban bugs and whack weeds using common sense instead of chemicals. Pesticides are harsh poisons designed to kill rodents and bugs. Pesticide residues can end up on your grass, in your home, and eventually on your child's hands (which every parent knows end up in her mouth). Prevent pests by keeping your home clean and removing their source of food. Distilled white vinegar will eliminate any weed. Be sure to wipe your feet on a doormat, or better yet remove your shoes at the door to prevent tracking in dirt, dust, grime, and other contaminants like lead or pesticides (and clean less!).

7. Go on a diet. I don't mean cutting calories, but rather a diet from stuff. Reduce consumption. In the US, 90 percent of purchases end up in the trash within six months. We're all familiar with the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" and while most people have embraced recycling, reducing is the first and most important step. And it means saving money. You also will reduce your exposure to unnecessary chemicals, consume less of the Earth's resources, and decrease the amount of pollution generated by manufacturing and disposing of all the stuff your family uses. Convert the money you save from scaling back on the purchases into investments in the higher quality green items like organic food, sustainable clothing and healthy furnishings.

These important suggestions encompass just some of the incredible information found in Christopher's best-selling parenting and lifestyle book: Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.

Here's what actress Meryl Streep had to say: "Healthy Child Healthy World helps mothers and fathers connect the dots, to understand cause and effect... It tries to emphasize the healthful solutions, the positive, easy-to-follow steps you can take for your family, your home, yourself."

Political and personal actions to make this world a safer place are the name of the human advancement game. Personally, I'm writing Senator Lautenberg today after I clean my kitchen counter with non-toxic baking soda! As well as sending my prayers to the people of the Gulf Coast.