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Small changes for a healthier environment
Each day we come into contact with—and even use—products that contain potentially harmful chemicals. We eat, breathe in, and absorb them as a matter of routine. And you might not be aware that you’re doing so because they’re in products we frequently use, things like food and beverage packaging (tin and aluminum cans or plastic containers), plastic baby bottles, household cleaning products, personal care products and fragrances, and cash register receipts.
Research over the past two decades finds that these chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, may impair the development of our brains and organs, and alter how our hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, or androgen, function. These disruptors may alter brain and reproductive system development to an extent that intelligence, behavior, fertility, and weight are affected. This may be particularly relevant when children or pregnant women are exposed to them.
The possible implications for everyone can be overwhelming, and frankly, scary. But, steps can be taken to minimize the risk of exposure.
Cue the annual Spring Into Action Conference, which brings together early care and education professionals, advocates, parents, educators, and providers from around the state. This year’s conference, hosted in partnership by Illinois Action for Children and the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, focused on the potential risks to children's long-term health, growth, and development from chemicals that may be in their environment.
Keynote speaker Dr. Susan Buchanan, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children's Environmental Health, spoke about possible exposure risks in both the environment and in common products. Many of the child care providers were surprised to learn that things they use every day, like air fresheners, could possibly be harmful to children in their care.
While intimidating at first, the overall message of the conference was one of hope. By making small changes in our daily habits, like switching to fragrance-free products or limiting canned food, the risk of exposure can be reduced. After the keynote speech, breakout sessions reinforced this message of hope by focusing on productive methods to limit exposure.
In one session led by Family Resiliency Center Director Dr. Barbara Fiese and Assistant Director Brenda Koester, child care providers were encouraged to discuss the types of products they use and brainstorm possible safe alternatives. In the workshop, participants deepened their knowledge of health, environment and safety issues through community health and family engagement.
While it is difficult to completely avoid exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, it’s possible to make small changes, like substituting essential oils for fragrance products that contain endocrine disruptors, that significantly lower a person’s risk of exposure.
For more information about endocrine disruptors and small steps you can take, please visit the Children's Environmental Health Research Center at Illinois.