Stories about: Environmental toxins

Potential dangers of last-minute present shopping

The holiday season is in full swing. But even if you’re the proactive type who already has her presents bought, meal planned and cards mailed, it seems like there’s always some last-minute shopping to do. Whether you forgot to get stocking stuffers, a small something for your nephew or your best friend’s new baby, everyone has scrambled for a last-minute present at some point.

In the mad dash to grab those final trinkets, it can be tempting to pick up a toy on the fly at convenient places like the pharmacy, grocery or dollar store. Be careful:  Many of the small and inexpensive toys sold at these locations aren’t the safest. So last-minute shoppers need to pick carefully.

“Generic, off-brand toys might be cheap and easy, but poorly made toys are anything but a good deal for kids,” says Lois Lee, MD, attending physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Department. “Many of these types of toys may have small parts that can break off easily, creating a choking hazard or may contain potentially toxic substances in the paint or plastic.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates many, but not all, toys sold in the U.S. It’s common for off-brand toys to fly under the Commission’s radar. Unregulated toys are at a greater risk of containing choking hazards, unsafe chemicals or failing to adequately identify the appropriate age for the toy’s user. (Remember, even a safe, well-made toy for an 8-year-old can be dangerous in the hands of a toddler—like magnet building toys, for instance.)

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Online breast milk sales: There’s no such thing as a (bacteria)-free lunch

By Larry Rhein, MD, Division of Newborn Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital

All pediatricians can agree that breast milk is the best food for infants. But sometimes, parents are unable to provide breast milk on their own. To fill this void, a new secondary market has developed where mothers who can produce additional breast milk do so and sell it online.

But selling breast milk for feeding infants is different than selling used baby clothes or toys; food has to meet minimum safety standards.

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Holiday toy hazards

By Lois Lee, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Now that the turkey and pumpkin pie are long gone, children have turned their holiday attention to what they think matters most—toys. But as you glance over those ever- growing wish lists, how can you be sure which toys are safest for your family? Fortunately for the safety conscious gift-giver in all of us, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) recently released Trouble in Toyland, their annual report on toy safety. This is the non-profit consumer organization’s 26th report, which for years has provided safety guidelines for consumers, as well as highlight toys currently on store shelves that could be potentially dangerous. It’s a great guide for parents, but by no means a rulebook; when shopping for your family, keep in mind that a little common sense goes a long way.

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BPA—another inconvenient truth

BPA is found in many plastics but evidence about its effects on pregnant women and babies has grown more worrisome recently.

Once upon a time, more than a hundred years ago, a scientist in Germany created a chemical called Bisphenol-A, or BPA.

Around thirty years later, other scientists discovered that BPA was similar to estrogen, the main female hormone of the reproductive system. They thought of using BPA as a synthetic estrogen. But there were better synthetic estrogens, so they didn’t.

Then, in the 1940’s and 50’s, yet other scientists discovered that BPA was a useful chemical after all. They found that it could be used to make all sorts of things, including plastic linings for cans and polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate plastic was particularly useful, because it is clear and shatterproof—making it perfect, for example, for baby bottles. Soon BPA was being used in hundreds of different products, from baby and water bottles to bike helmets to dental sealants and medical equipment.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that laws came into place to regulate the safety of industrial chemicals. And that’s where the BPA story gets interesting.

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