Dr. Alan Greene is renowned pediatrician and father of four who has written many books on the subject of green parenting, and how to keep your family safe and healthy. He is on the board of Healthy Child, Healthy World and recently published two new books called Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green. I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Greene about some of my most pressing concerns about hidden household toxins and chemicals – check out the video above and the interview below to hear what he had to say on everything from toxic household cleaners, to autism, to concerns about endocrine disruption with BPA and soy products.
Jill: What products and chemicals should we be most concerned about for kids in our home?
Dr. Alan Greene: As a pediatrician, we often tell parents to lock up cleaning supplies, but despite that advice there’s 200,000 poisonings every year in the United States from cleaning products alone. My big concern is not just that but when they’re used as directed, they can leave residues on floors and tables and counters and the fumes can linger in our homes for a long time. It’s one of the reasons that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
Jill: Are there alternatives to these harsh chemicals that we can use when we’re cleaning our home?
Dr. Alan Greene: Thankfully, green cleaners are really coming of age. There are alternatives without all the harsh chemicals that can really get the job done. Disinfecting is a great example of that. Parents often love disinfecting wipes to be able to clean up kids’ toys and even pacifiers and things like that, but up until recently the disinfecting wipes and sprays have contained chemicals I really don’t like. Now in 2010, there’s an EPA-registered disinfectant that is 99.99 percent effective at killing germs naturally and it’s one made by Seventh Generation.
Jill: So speaking of nasty chemicals, let’s talk about BPA. It seems like it’s in pretty much everything. How much do we really need to worry about this?
Dr. Alan Greene: BPA is used in a lot of different ways in plastics, to make plastic hard and clear especially. It’s also in the linings of cans and in a lot of cash register receipts too, and it’s a chemical I’m very concerned about. It’s an estrogen-like chemical and studies suggest that it can cause serious problems including increased risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer from early childhood exposures, problems like ADHD, earlier puberty, birth defects and even obesity and diabetes.
Jill: Do you think this is something the industry can and should deal with voluntarily or do you think this is going to require legislation?
Dr. Alan Greene: Well yeah, the industry should deal with it, but I also hope that legislation will help take care of that too.
Our chemical policy in the U.S. is really out of date. It’s from the 1970’s and relies on old science.
It couldn’t detect or deal with stuff like that, but there’s a new bill called the Safe Chemicals Act that was just introduced into Congress on April 15 that would require that chemicals be safe for kids when used as directed. There’s something called the Million Baby Crawl where parents were signing up there on behalf of their kids to ask for safe chemicals.
Jill: On a somewhat related note speaking about endocrine disruptors, I have a question that is very personal that I want to ask you and it’s about soy products. I’m vegan and my family is vegan and because of that, we eat a ton of soy products in my household. And I have a small son and a lot of people are really concerned about the hormone disruption that might come from soy isoflavones, and I’m wondering if you have any opinions about this – whether or not it’s actually a problem.
“I have a small son and a lot of people are really concerned about the hormone disruption that might come from soy isoflavones?”
Dr. Alan Greene: That’s a really interesting question. People are concerned about the phytoestrogens in soy but you never hear people concerned about the phytoestrogens in hummus or in peanut butter or in peas, or in whole grains, or sesame or in yams or in carrots, or flack seeds have a lot more than soy. The reason that soy gets the attention is that often soy is taken apart into pieces. Rather than having something made from whole soybeans you get soy isoflavones or isolated soy proteins. And when you have studies looking at the effect of those, they’re kind of questionable results. Some show good stuff, some show bad stuff, but the studies of whole soybean products are actually pretty comforting. I think it’s a great part of a kids’ diet.
Jill: So your new book, Feeding Baby Green, talks about your passion for getting kids started really early on the path to healthy eating – actually when they’re in the womb. I’m wondering if you think that parents should switch over to an all-organic diet for the health of their children?
Dr. Alan Greene: The best time to eat organic in all of life is during pregnancy and in the very early part of childhood when the brain is developing so quickly and the metabolism is setting. So if you can do that I think it’s a great time to eat organic. If you can’t do everything organic, pick the few things that have the highest pesticide levels or hormone levels. I have lists of the things that I consider most important for parents in each of my books and choose things that are grown in the U.S. if possible. A lot of places we import our food from don’t have the strict pesticide regulations that we do.
Jill: So autism has been in the news a lot lately and I’m wondering if you think that environmental factors play a role at all in the development of autism and, if so, what do you think are the greatest risks? What do you think that we should be concerned about as parents?
Dr. Alan Greene: So in general with the illnesses that are increasing really rapidly like autism – but also ADHD and allergies now – there’s a whole bunch that seem to be growing really quickly. It’s not that we’re suddenly inheriting more of that. It’s environmental exposures or lifestyles of some kind that’s causing it. And with autism one of the ones I’m most concerned about is a neurotoxic pesticide called Chlorpyrifos, a bug spray. It was developed actually as a nerve gas and now we spray it on our food sometimes and choosing organic food and food that’s just grown locally or in season you’re much less likely to have that sprayed on.
In terms of autism one of the possible risks I’m most concerned about is a neurotoxic pesticide called Chlorpyrifos, a bug spray. It was developed actually as a nerve gas and now we spray it on our food
Scary, right!? For any of you who want to find out more information about some of these topics that we talked about with Dr. Greene, check out the Dr. Greene website, DrGreene.com