Editor note: This article was written by guest contributor, Lendri Purcell. Purcell Lendri Purcell is Co-President of Jonas Philanthropies and founder of Families Advocating for Chemical and Toxics Safety (FACTS). In her role at Jonas Philanthropies, Lendri drives the work of the Children’s Environmental Health program, tapping into her skills as a children’s rights advocate, community organizer, and seasoned funder.
by Lendri Purcell
While planting trees, I learned that the lifetime health of a tree is largely determined by its early inputs (nutrients, water, sun). As a mom of a child impacted by lead, a former special education teacher who saw too many students who couldn’t learn properly due to toxic exposures, and a friend of so many friends with cancer, I am keenly aware of the ramifications of common toxic exposures in our lives. We are swimming in a toxic chemical soup. There are more than 85,000 chemicals in the products we regularly use in the United States. Less than two percent have been tested thoroughly for safety. Exposure to common environmental hazards can have lifelong consequences; many of these exposures start in utero.
Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental risks. Early life toxic exposures in our water, food, air, soil, and consumer products can contribute to asthma, cancer, autism, IQ loss, behavioral problems, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech and cognitive delays, and many other illnesses. According to Children’s Environmental Health Network, roughly 34% of children’s chronic illnesses and developmental problems are caused by environmental factors. Children in disadvantaged communities are at the highest risk.
I know first-hand how scary this information can be for a parent to digest – my son was diagnosed with elevated lead levels. This experience taught me that knowledge is power, and the more I learned, the more I saw that I could make small changes over time to minimize his exposure and protect his health. Below are some easy and impactful actions you can take at home to keep your kids safe.
Air: Change house and car cabin filters regularly. Use a (HEPA) air filter to turn on during fires, while cooking with gas and when windows are open if you live near traffic or where pesticides are used. Use your highest oven fan setting when cooking with gas. Limit gas cooking by using electric appliances like air fryers, hot plates, etc. Many consumer products we use to clean our homes contain chemicals that can harm our health, including solvents, disinfecting agents, chlorine, and artificial added fragrances, including air fresheners and fabric softeners, etc. Check this list of the safest options and recipes to make safe cleaners. Use a HEPA vacuum. Dust and clean with a wet cloth. Check tags on your furniture and avoid anything with flame retardants and stain guards.
Food: Avoid processed food when you can. Organic food is ideal but often costly. Learn the most and least important produce to eat organically. California rice is safer than rice from the South. Use plates and mugs that say dishwasher safe. Use stainless steel and cast iron cookware, and avoid non-stick. Ideally, ditch your microwave altogether, or at least avoid heating food in plastic containers. Reduce plastic use wherever possible, especially for water bottles.
Water: Check the EWG tap water database to see if you need a filter and if so, which kind. If you live in an older home, consider testing your bath water for lead.
Personal Care Products and Clothing: See personal care product safety ratings such as toothpaste, bubble bath, soaps, shampoo, diapers, creams, wipes, lotions, sunscreen, etc. When possible, avoid stain guards and antimicrobials in clothing and shoes.
Toys: For younger kids, choose toys made with natural products like wood, wool, or cotton. Avoid anything with chipped paint. Encourage babies to teeth on food-grade silicone products and green toys.
Technology: Growing research is showing that EMF radiation from cell phones, Bluetooth, and routers can negatively impact health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the US government tighten wireless exposure limits and that the public reduce children’s exposure to cell phones and other devices that emit wireless radiation. Keep your phone away from your pregnant belly and baby. Turn phones and routers off at night and keep away from places kids and babies spend the most time. Avoid wireless baby monitors, toys with wireless music, and wireless cribs.
It can be difficult to make all these changes at once, especially for people with limited time and resources. You can start small and take impactful, inexpensive steps to minimize exposure. For example, leaving shoes at the door and buying safe, pre-loved toys and clothes. The California State Assembly proclaimed October to be Children’s Environmental Health Month. We still have a long way to go to ensure the necessary measures are taken to safeguard our children’s environmental health in our state and across the country, but this is an important step toward raising awareness and protecting our most vulnerable. Educating parents and decision-makers will be critical as we look to further this momentum, minimize toxic exposures, and increase regulation.
About Lendri Purcell:
Lendri Purcell is Co-President of Jonas Philanthropies and founder of Families Advocating for Chemical and Toxics Safety (FACTS). In her role at Jonas Philanthropies, Lendri drives the work of the Children’s Environmental Health program, tapping into her skills as a children’s rights advocate, community organizer, and seasoned funder.
To Lendri, children’s environmental health is personal. Six years ago, after her child was exposed to high levels of lead, Lendri embarked on a quest to not only find the source of that exposure but ensure that other parents are able to keep their children safe from toxic exposures. Now, Lendri is deeply immersed in environmental health academic research and is a leading advocate for families across the country.
In addition to spearheading the Children’s Environmental Health Program, Lendri has created dozens of enrichment and education programs to address obstacles to student learning outside of the classroom, increase investments in East Bay youth, and strengthen the youth development community by increasing collaboration and coordination. She also spearheaded the highly successful Jonas Youth Development Initiative, a mentoring and school-to-career training program for over eight thousand highly at-risk San Francisco East Bay youth. Lendri also established a youth advisory board reflective of the community to help recommend grants for this initiative.
Lendri has a Masters in Learning and Instruction and has advanced certifications in educational therapy and childhood trauma.