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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Back to School More Safely

Jennifer M gives simple tips to help avoid environmental contaminants in your back-to-school Schulranzen (satchel). Originally published in Currents, August/September 2005.

As a mother of small children, I have come to accept the fact that my kids will inevitably put their mouths on at least one disgusting thing a day. And if it isn’t their mouths directly, then they will pick up the dead bird off the back patio and then rub their eyes or pick their noses and then eat their boogers. Does anyone else know what I mean? I’m sure you do. Not only do they put disgusting things in their mouths, they also put seemingly innocent things in their mouths, like chewing on their pencils or licking the inside cover of their Brotdose (breadbox) or even eating a shiny red apple. More and more often, these things can no longer be considered innocent as manufacturers and farmers are using more and more environmentally dangerous additives in producing items for use or consumption by children. Coupled with this exposure to environmental contaminants, one cannot simply ignore the rise in early childhood cancers, early puberty asthma, learning disabilities and brain disease that is being found in our youth recently.

Here are some simple tips to help avoid environmental contaminants in your back-to-school Schulranzen (satchel):

1. Pack your child’s lunch or snack box with healthy, organic food. Recent testing of pre-schoolers revealed a striking difference in the amount of nervous-system damaging organophosphate chemicals found in the bodies of children who eat conventional food versus children who eat exclusively organic food. At www.thegreenguide.com/gg/pdf/Top10.pdf, you can find a list of the top ten contaminated fruits and vegetables. While it might not be possible to buy everything organic, at least knowing which fruits and vegetables to buy organic due to high contamination rates in conventional produce might be a start.

2. Pay attention to the type of containers you send your child’s snacks in. Hormone-disrupting chemicals can leach from bottles and containers into your water or other beverage and food. A quick look at the recycling guide on most containers will let you know which container is safe: Numbers 2, 4, 5 are the safest bets, followed by a No. 1, as long as the plastic isn’t degraded or overused (such as might happen from heating in a microwave or melting in a dishwasher). Numbers to avoid are No. 3 (PVC – which contains hormone-disrupting plasticizers known as phthalates), No. 6 (polystyrene – a possible human carcinogen) and No. 7 (polycarbonate – which contains bisphenol-A, a hormone disruptor).

3. Be aware of what clothes and shoes your child wears. If you choose organic cotton products (which can be found not only at specialty stores in Hamburg, but also in every department store – look for the Öko-Text sticker), it helps not only the environment because fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers have been used, but also prevents the leaching of these things into the soil and groundwater. The following shoe manufacturers are eliminating the use of PVC vinyl, whose production releases carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting dioxin, the most toxic man-made chemical known: Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Puma and Reebok.

For more information on how you can send your child back to school in a healthier and greener environment, be sure to visit www.thegreenguide.com or www.mothering.com; both sites provided the background information for this article.

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