It has recently come to my attention that many of my apartment building's residents have been using disinfecting cleaners (specifically Lysol) inside the washing and drying machines of our laundry facilities. I was more than a little upset when I found this out, I want to limit my child's exposure to the harsh chemicals in disinfectants, finding out that these chemicals have potentially been in direct contact with my family's skin for the last 2 years is upsetting and more than a little scary for me.
For the record, I am SO NOT the kind of person who normally freaks out about this kind of thing. I am no helicopter parent bent on micromanaging absolutely every person and environment my child comes in contact with. I realize that there are any number of potentially harmful chemicals being used regularly in public spaces that I cannot control. This is why I do my best to make safe choices inside our home so that my family's over-all exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals is reduced if not eliminated. By focusing on the things I CAN control, I find it liberatingly easy to relax about the things that I can't. But there is just something about commercial disinfectants that give me the creeps, and finding out that my son has been in direct contact with disinfectant cleaners 24/7 for his entire life outside of my womb is more than a little disconcerting.
I think this article from Healthy Child Healthy World pretty much sums up why I feel this way about disinfectant cleaners, and a twitter friend wrapped it all up rather well when she coined the phrase: "germs are good for you, cancer is not!" (Please somebody make me this T-shirt!)
So now comes the big deep breath after my fit of boarder line hysterics about the Lysol in the Laundry room incident of 2011. What do I do about it?
On the one hand, there are any number of terrifying toxins in this apartment building. From building materials and older plumbing to the air fresheners and cleaning products used in the hallways, I hold no delusions that this building is otherwise toxin free. Even if the laundry room were free of disinfectant there would still be residues left behind from other people's detergents and fabric softeners. Can I really reasonably expect a toxin free environment when I live in such close proximity to, and share facilities with, my neighbours? I don't expect everyone to make the same choices that I would, even if it would be better for the health of the entire planet.
On the other hand I am an idealist. I genuinely believe that people can and will treat others with kindness and respect as best they know how a vast majority of the time. Could it be that my neighbours are simply unaware that the disinfectants they are using are likely to cause them, and me and my family, more harm than the remote possibility of picking up a harmful microbe from the washing facilities? This Idealistic part of me has already drafted a very polite and educational letter on the subject and plans to slip one under the doors of every tenant in the building.
Being aware of the toxins our families come into contact with is important, but when you tend to flirt with the label 'control freak' as much as I do, being aware can often send you over the edge.
Sometimes jumping over that edge can be good for you though. In my case it has made me determined. I can't control what products other people choose to use, even if those products will inevitably end up in contact with my family. It sucks, but it's true.
What I can do is get active in my community. I can educate other parents, friends, family and neighbours about how the product choices we make effect our health, our community's health, and the health of our planet. (click here to find out how you can host a Healthy child party for all your friends)
I can ask my government representatives what they are doing to restrict and legislate the sale and use of toxic chemicals thereby making it harder for those chemicals to make it to my family. I can urge them to create stricter labeling laws to prevent companies from selling toxins under false labels like 'natural', 'green', 'nontoxic', and other buzz words, and require they clearly list ingredients in everything from cleaning to beauty products.
If I don't like their answers I can vote, volunteer, and campaign for representatives who will do more to protect my family from pollutants.
I can find out what organizations in my community are doing to reduce the amount of toxins in my environment and support them in doing so by donating either my time, money, or both. (This is one of my favourites)
I can continue to find new ways to make my own home a healthier environment for my family, to reduce our over-all exposure to toxins. For instance, this week I will be purging the last of my make-up and beauty products. (Did you know that: "The government does not require health studies or pre-market testing for [beauty] products before they are sold." - Skin Deep)
Maybe none of these things will stop my neighbors from leaving a film of pesticides inside the clothes dryer because they're afraid of germs in a washing facility, but maybe it will prevent my children's future neighbors from dumping toxins into their environment.
What other things can I do to stem the flow of toxins into our environment? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section!