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Lexy Zissu and Deirdre Dolan Headshot

Marketing Toxins to Moms: Shame on You

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I currently have two television commercials lodged in my head. I have a 9 month old who doesn't like to go to bed before me which means I watch very little television these days. But somehow I have managed to see both of these recently. Several times. That's because both of these commercials are clearly targeted to moms and are played on channels moms are apparently watching, like TLC. (Fine, I admit it, I like to watch birth stories and other treacly bringing-home-baby shows. I cant help it. It's the same impulse as wiggling out a loose tooth. Or maybe its just voyeurism. Either way it feels good to see how other people - it doesn't matter how little we have in common -- in the parenting trenches are coping. Or not coping.)

Anyway, back to the commercials.

One is for a Clorox spray, the other is for Gain detergent. In the Clorox ad, bleach is pretty much sprayed everywhere, even inside an already pristine refrigerator, right next to food. In the Gain commercial, a couple is driving to a convenience store in the middle of the night; the wife is craving the smell of Gain. The camera pans out on the woman sniffing a bottle of detergent and you realize she isn't pregnant anymore (there is a baby in the back seat) and that her olfactory obsession goes beyond pregnancy. The message of both commercials is that these products are good and safe and clean and protecting you. They're so safe you can inhale them directly when pregnant, or feed your kids food sprayed directly with them. Here are some choice words from Clorox's website:

"Anywhere Hard Surface™ spray is a whole new way to sanitize. Gentle enough to use around kids and food, powerful enough to kill 99.9% of bacteria, including E. coli, Salmonella, Staph and Strep. And since it has no harsh fumes and leaves no harmful chemical residue it needs no wiping or rinsing. Making it the perfect daily sanitizing spray to use all over your home, anytime you need it."

The site claims this stuff is good to use - no wiping or rinsing!! -- all over a nursery, on changing tables, and on high chair trays. "It's as gentle as water." The site also features an area where moms chime in about how much they love the spray because it's "safe" to use around kids. So basically these big cleaning product manufacturers are putting it out there that using these products is better than inhaling air free of detergent and bleach, teething on a bleach-free toy, or eating a water-washed piece of fruit. They imply you'll be a better mother if you breathe these chemicals, and put them all over your children. Pardon me while I use all caps: NOTHING COULD BE !^*%&^ FURTHER THAN THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!

In "The Complete Organic Pregnancy," my co-author Deirdre Dolan and I discuss how the chemicals in conventional cleaning products are trade secrets. Our government protects the formulas of ingredients in any given cleaner so the makers' competitors can't copy them. Which means there is no way of knowing what exactly is in that Clorox spray (it's a "patented process," says their website) or the Gain detergent, or what you're breathing/eating/exposing yourself to if you use them. What we do know from our research and as hyper-educated consumers is that in general, conventional cleaning products are a grim and potent cocktail of carcinogens (established and/or suspected), neurotoxins and the like. The fragrance the mom is so addicted to wafting out of the bottle in the Gain commercial is most likely filled with phthalates (a toxic petroleum derivative that has been associated with disorders of sexual maturation in girls and birth defects in boys) which are often used as a fixative in synthetic fragrances. I don't know what Gain smells like; I have never smelled it. But I bet it isn't good enough to expose your growing baby or your kid to that.

Here is where I get back to the trade secret thing. I'm outraged that this blatant commercialism is permitted by our government. Shouldn't someone be protecting us from inhaling toxins when pregnant? Protecting our kids? Telling us not to spray them on our apples? Hell, what about protecting us as grown up human beings? If they're not willing to give up the lobbying money or whatever, at the very least they could ban the marketing of toxins to pregnant woman and moms trying to do right by their kids. Who wouldn't want to protect their babies from the horrible sounding E. coli, Salmonella, Staph and Strep? It almost makes you feel like you'd be a bad mom NOT to buy the spray! What kind of a world do we live in that the big companies manufacturing these detergents are protected and little growing babies and the moms incubating them are not?

If you're not the sort of person to get pissed off about toxic detergents, try putting your baby to sleep on a sheet that has been washed in the gunk. I did it once with my baby girl when she was very young. We were visiting someone who had highly perfumed sheets. Babies' skin is much thinner than adult skin. Her face was bright red for two days.

There are plenty of much-less-toxic and eco-friendly cleaning products now available. They're available fragrance free. There are naturally scented versions. The companies that make them willingly list the ingredients. Replacing all of the toxic cleaners under your kitchen sink, in your bathroom, and in your laundry room is the single easiest way to (sometimes drastically) reduce your indoor air pollution. Besides, it's a message to the advertising geniuses behind those commercials: not every mom will tolerate that sort of marketing. We're a growing bunch. I don't expect to see a commercial for home made tub scrub (mix liquid soap and baking soda--it works!) anytime soon. But a mom can dream

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