Monday, December 13, 2010

Autism and the Environment

Last week our Green Street radio show was about autism, We talked with a leading researcher about possible environmental links and we talked with the VP of a non-profit organization about the things being done to help parents of autistic kids. It was both inspiring and frightening.

As we watch our grandson grow up, we are reminded of just how much work it is to raise a child, and how invested parents become in the health and welfare of their children. The possibility that your three-year-old child begin to regress and withdraw as the symptoms of autism appear is something we all have to live with.

The link to vaccinations seems to have been mostly dispelled by the research, although doubt lingers among many parents of autistic children because of the significant anecdotal evidence noting the proximity of vaccinations to the first signs of autism. But there are other factors coming to light.

Prenatal exposures are getting particular scrutiny, including viruses and ultra-sound procedures. And of course, chemical exposures from airborne toxins, nutritional deficiencies, personal care products and food are always on the list of suspects.

"I don't think that any case is due to a single exposure or a single gene," Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the University of California at Davis told us. "Every [autistic] child has probably been affected by several genes and several environmental factors."

You can hear the whole show at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks for Natural Food

In a few days we'll be sitting down to a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner; roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, winter squash, brussel sprouts, rutabaga, cranberry-orange relish, pumpkin and apple pies and probably a few other things I left out. The difference between our meal and what most Americans will be eating this year is what's missing from our food: GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, preservatives and a host of other chemicals that have contaminated our food supply.

Few of our ancestors would recognize most of the food items that pass through the checkout counters and end up on dinner tables this week. They might shake their heads in disbelief at genetically-modified fruits and vegetables in styrofoam trays and plastic wrap, boxes of "food products" that contain virtually no actual food but lots of chemicals, and meat and poultry raised in huge commercial feeding operations and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.

The truth is that we are what we eat, and a diet of these chemicals will eventually take its toll on our bodies. During the great debate over health care in this country, we were astonished at the public disconnect between our typical American diet and the state of our national health.

How will it change? It will change when mothers and fathers rise up and collectively say "no more." It will end when feeding your kids junk food is seen for what it really is - a form of unintentional child abuse. It will change at the grassroots level - one family at a time, just like every other movement.

We'll be out at the farm this year, celebrating our first Thanksgiving with our grandson and his parents, Maggie and Matt. We'll be giving thanks for a bountiful harvest this year, for good health, and for the real food we eat.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The School IPM Rant

We often hear people brag about their child's school having an IPM, or "Integrated Pest Management" policy for school fields. Do they not realize that IPM is an industry-developed and sponsored program? The underlying concept of IPM sounds great - using least toxic methods first, then graduating to heavy chemicals only if the natural methods don't work. But the reality is that these programs are usually administered by people with years of training in pesticides and zero training in natural methods. In all the years since IPM was introduced, the use of pesticides has gone up, not down. IPM may have some limited applications for indoor pest control, but to control weeds? We don't think so.

Bottom line: Many lawn pesticides are either carcinogens or neurotoxins or both. If they were spilled on a school field by accident, men in hazmat suits would be dispatched to clean them up. These products should never even get close to a school, and with today's advances in soil science and organic products, we don't need them at all!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The ChildSafe School Part I

It's hard to remember exactly how it got started. Like any parents, we were concerned about the health and safety of our kids, and how they were being affected by chemicals in the environment. At home we ate organic food, maintained our lawn without pesticides, avoided things like fabric softeners and chemical air fresheners, and used natural cleaning products. But once our kids got to school, we knew someone else was making decisions that affected their environment. What did they know?

Not much, as it turned out. Our first brush with toxins at school was with the friendly groundskeeper at the elementary school where Patti and a few parents had started a school garden. One day he casually volunteered to spray the perimeter of the garden with pesticides to kill the weeds. A few minutes later Patti was in the Principal's office discussing why pesticides were being used at our kids' school. That night around the dining room table she wrote the first ChildSafe school policy prohibiting pesticides on fields and grounds. Today it's the law in New York State!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Keeping Kids' Hands Clean

As the weather turns colder, parents know that cold and flu season is almost upon here. So what can they do to keep their kids healthy this winter? According to almost every medical expert in the country, the answer is simple: teach your kids the important habit of hand washing. Throughout the day, as kids come into contact with their friends, foods, animals and surfaces touched by others, they accumulate germs on their hands. By touching their eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated hands, they can transfer these germs to their bodies resulting in infections. Brisk hand washing with plain soap and warm water for one full minute can remove most of these infectious germs.

When we're away from home, we like the hand sanitizing products from CleanWell that are made from essential oils. They're alcohol-free and completely natural, and come in packets we keep with us everywhere we go.

By all means, avoid anti-bacterial soap with triclosan. The latest research suggests its use may cause serious health problems, including allergic reactions, interference with thyroid function and disruption of the endocrine system. The estrogenic effects of triclosan may induce early puberty, which in turn increases the risk of breast cancer.

So teach your kids about germs and hand washing, and get them in the habit of washing their hands on a regular basis.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And so it begins...

We've been thinking about a blog for a long time, but it always seemed to be just one more thing to do on a long and growing checklist. On the other hand, our mission at Grassroots is to communicate, to educate and to share what we know and what we learn with others who are concerned about families, communities and the environment we share.

So here is the Grassroots Blog, a place where we hope you will find useful, timely and science-based information about living a healthy life in this increasingly toxic world.

We'll be posting every week. Let us know what you think.