Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Make Your Own "Safer" Chalkboard Paint

Our church is making a special room for kids with special needs and somebody suggested using chalkboard paint. Sounds fun but I had concerns about what's actually in chalkboard paint and I hadn't seen any that were low/no VOC. Then I came across this great blog with directions to make your own chalkboard paint. It's simple, safer, and you can make it in any color - you aren't limited to the traditional black or green chalkboard colors. Just choose your favorite zero-VOC paint (we like Olympic Premium Zero-VOC paint) and for every cup of paint add 2 tablespoons of tile grout. Check out some of their great ideas here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Make Your Own Astronaut Board

If you have a child who is on the spectrum or has Sensory Processing Disorder, your OT may have suggested an astronaut board. I have to admit I had no idea what this was before I googled it. I found a few sites selling them but they can be expensive (about $130), so I was happy when I came across this site that has instruction to make your own for a fraction of the cost.

I am changing mine up a little. First, I'm using natural hardwoods to make sure I'm limiting the chemicals in the wood. I'm also rounded my corners and sanding them so I don't have any sharp corners. And I'm going to add more padding for added comfort and safety. I can't wait to finish it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Safer Summer Fun - Play Area Ground Cover

Once up on time, prior to children, I had a beautiful flower garden. It was full of colorful flowers and (sigh)...has since become a "weed garden"! Last week I finally had some time to rip it all out to start from scratch. I decided not to do plants in this area and instead use this area as a "kid zone". So I started to research safe alternatives for ground cover.

I have some concerns about wood mulch since recycled waste wood used for making landscape mulch products can be contaminated with various chemicals, like creosote and CCA. CCA, chromated copper arsenate is a chemical that was used in the manufacture of pressure-treated wood and contains Arsenic as a major ingredient. If it were from virgin sources and untouched by chemicals, that would be great, but I haven't seen to many brands that can reassure me of that. So now what?

I started googling options and came up with mulch made from recycled tires. Each site I went to said that their tire mulch was "non-toxic". Really? In some states tires are classified as "Hazardous Waste" and in other states they are a "Special Waste", requiring a permit and a fee to dispose of rubber tires. That doesn't leave me thinking they are non-toxic. I discovered that various studies have identified over 49 different compounds in recycled tire mulch. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station "analyzed a sample of ground-up rubber tires and found chemicals like Benzothiazole (a skin and eye irritation, harmful if swallowed), Butylated hydroxyanisole, (a known carcinogen, suspected endocrine toxicant, gastrointestinal toxicant, immunotoxicant and, neurotoxicant), n-hexadecane: Severe irritant based on human and animal studies), 4-(t-octyl) phenol (Corrosive and destructive to mucous membranes), Benzene a known carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxicant), Phthalates (suspected developmental, endocrine and reproductive toxicant), PAH (suspected cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, reproductive, and respiratory toxicant), Maganese (gastrointestinal or liver toxicants), Carbon Black (a carcinogen) and Latex (causes allergic reactions in some people)". That doesn't sound non-toxic to me? The rubber mulch companies argue that tires don't break down but if you see residue from these same tire products on children's hands and clothing, chemicals are potentially being absorbed through the skin, inhaled, and/or ingested. I'm just not comfortable with that.

Even if those toxins aren't a concern, Consumer Reports stated that "rubber mulch isn’t suitable for playgrounds or play areas: It might contain small pieces of steel or nylon. Its flammability also makes it a questionable choice for homes with smokers or in areas that get frequent fire-weather watches or red-flag warnings. Environmental groups and state governments are also conducting studies to determine whether chemicals in rubber mulch leach into soil." So potential metals splinters or contaminated ground water? Not very reassuring that this is a safe ground covering for small children.

So what are safer choices? If you can find "virgin mulch" that would be my top choice. I'm going to call some local landscape companies and see if they may be taking down some big trees and putting them through a chipper/mulcher. If you aren't concerned about having some cushion, rocks would be another safer option.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Close to My Heart - SPD

To this point I have not shared much about my family. You may know that I am married and have two adorable children, but what I haven't told you is that both of my children have Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. The SPD Foundation defines it as a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.

I had never heard of SPD until my daughter was diagnosed by Early Intervention when she was about two and a half years old. She had become a very picky eater and certain foods would send her into a panic. Think of your worst fear (for me it would be seeing a snake!) and that's how she would react when certain foods were placed on the table. She also hated baths and getting her teeth brushed. It would take both my husband and I to bathe her or brush her teeth. I'm surprised none of the neighbors ever called child-protective services since she would scream at the top of her lungs the entire time. We just thought she was a difficult child and a picky eater until the diagnosis came and I started to do my research. Then some of her other "unique" behaviors began to make sense.

With my son, I noticed things were different much earlier (thanks to knowing about SPD from my daughter). He's my sensory seeker - he looks for ways to give himself sensory input. Instead of standing still, he would stomp in place. He would stuff his mouth full so that his cheeks would register more input. He lacks focus and goes from task to task looking for new input. Many would look at him and think he had ADHD. I'm thankful that I had the knowledge to know the difference and have the diagnosis confirmed by experts (many pediatricians are not familiar with SPD and misdiagnosis it as ADHD).

One of the most common examples of a sensory issue that people can relate to are tags in clothing. Some children, and even adults, are terribly bothered by them to the point that they can't really focus on anything other than the darn tag (or in the case of a child, they have a tantrum) and can't move on until the tag is gone! That's pretty minor in the scheme of things but it's an example of how a sensory issue can become a behavioral issue due to a problem with sensory processing.

I am very fortunate to have some great resources in my area that specialize in sensory issues due to specializing in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many children with ASD have sensory challenges, but SPD is not always associated with autism. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation is working to get SPD as a stand-alone diagnosis on the DSM-5.

My children both receive occupational therapy as it is the most recognized treatment for those with sensory issues. During sensory-based OT sessions, the therapists interact in a sensory-rich environment with lots of swinging, spinning, tactile, visual, auditory, and taste opportunities that seem more like play to the children. Through OT children improve their ability to accurately detect, regulate, interpret, and execute appropriate motor and behavioral responses to sensations so they are able to perform everyday "occupations" in a functional manner. These occupations include playing with friends, enjoying school or work, completing daily routines such as eating, dressing, sleeping, and enjoying a typical family life.

One of the frustrations I have, however, is that many of the items that are most helpful for therapy aren't "safer choices". For example, a fitness ball is a wonderful tool for OT. I spent hours researching a PVC-free option I was comfortable having the children work on daily in our home (it's due to arrive 7/28 so look for a review in the next few weeks!). I will be posting some some options that pass my "safer choices tests" that are great "toys" for any child, but especially helpful for a child who has SPD or ASD. I'll also be posting some resources for those who would like to make certain products that are recommended since some of you are crafty and could make things for a fraction of what they cost to buy. This is not a departure from my mission of providing healthier options for your family, but a specialized area that has become near and dear to my heart. If SPD or ASD is part of your life, keep an eye out for these posts.

Monday, July 18, 2011

BPA-Free Canned Fish

We received a request on our Facebook page for some ideas for BPA-free canned fish products. We felt like this was a good food to research since according to The World's Healthiest Foods "with canned food, the risk is greater if the food inside the can is either watery and acidic (like tomato products) or if it is oily (like sardines and salmon). The risk is also greater when heating is involved. In general, we would place oily, canned fish like canned sardines and salmon in a higher-than-average risk category since there is often "double-cooking" involved (cooking prior to canning, and then heating in the can for sterilization purposes), and oils in and surrounding the fish can allow contaminants in the packaging to migrate from the can into the food."

So after a bunch of phone calls and email inquiries here's what we found:

Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics has BPA-free canned options for all their fish products except for Dungeness Crab. They are one of the few companies that have BPA-free canned salmon!!!

Oregon’s Choice uses BPA-free cans for all of their Albacore products. Their goal is to have every product canned in BPA-free cans within the next year.

Wild Planet Foods' Albacore Tuna, Skipjack Light Tuna and Sardines are packed in BPA-free cans. They are currently working with their suppliers to source BPA- free cans for salmon products. Due to the natural citric acid used in processing Wild Pink Shrimp, the cans must have a special lining which cannot be BPA-free.

Ecofish (Henry & Lisa's) uses some BPA-free cans. I was told that the canned salmon is BPA-free. The actual can for the canned tuna and low-sodium tuna are BPA-free but the lids do contain BPA (so not BPA-free by my definition).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Join the "Kick the Can" Challenge!

The Breast Cancer Fund is sponsoring the ‘Kick the Can’ campaign to alert people to the dangers of BPA in our canned foods. Our friends at Healthy Child Healthy World are joining in to take this challenge and send a message to manufacturers that we want BPA out of food cans, out of our food and out of our bodies. Join with these organization and accept the challenge!

Sign the pledge to "Kick the Can" this month.

By reducing your exposure to BPA you'll be redusing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver abnormalities, and breast cancer!

Cooking with fresh, organic foods is best but we realize that's not always an option. So if you are looking for some BPA-free alternatives to some traditionally canned foods, like condensed soups, refried beans, or diced tomatoes, check out the articles below. Safer Choices has done the research for you and found BPA-free alternatives!

BPA-free Tomatoes
BPA-free Soups (regular and condensed)
BPA-free Beans
BPA-free Gravy
BPA-free Pumpkin Pie Filling