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Parents Can Help Protect
Children From Toxins

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Health) - Parents can do several things to reduce the amount of environmental toxins their children will encounter, pediatricians said Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

``We're living in a significantly toxic environment,'' said Dr. William B. Weil, Jr., professor emeritus at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. ``Kids are exposed to multiple chemicals.''

Young children may be especially vulnerable to environmental toxins for many reasons, he said, such as their still-developing organs, their frequent hand to mouth activity and their proximity to toxins on the ground.

Mercury was one major concern to the pediatricians, with evidence that young children and developing fetuses exposed to mercury can experience neurological damage.

Earlier this year, the government issued recommendations saying women contemplating pregnancy or who were pregnant should avoid fish such as shark, swordfish or mackerel--all of which can contain high levels of mercury.

Weil also advised women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing to avoid eating more than one serving of tuna fish weekly, and to avoid serving it to their young children.

``The first trimester is crucial for brain development,'' Weil said. ``If you're going to get pregnant, don't eat (these fish) for 120 days. That's what I would tell my daughter.''

Several nationwide programs are encouraging parents to turn in their old mercury-based thermometers for safer digital thermometers, which won't accidentally break and release mercury into the environment.

``It may seem like a small measure, but it's going to go a long way,'' added Dr. Michael Shannon, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a toxicologist at Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Both doctors also addressed practical ways parents can reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides their children may encounter in the home, such as pesticides from the yard that can get tracked into the home.

``Anytime before you use a product, think: 'Do I really need to use that chemical?''' Weil urged. ``Eighty percent of US families use pesticides during the year, and rarely is there a real need.'' He recommended systems like integrated pest management, which attempts to find alternative bug-reduction methods.

In addition to the home, parents may also want to contact day care centers and schools about the fumigation policies they have implemented, Weil suggested.

Shannon advised that parents may want to make a targeted decision, wherever possible and affordable, to buy organic foods that children are most likely to eat, such as apples, peaches and grapes.

``Parents need to face the current-day reality that pesticide residues will be on foods their children will eat in the near future,'' Shannon said. ``That's a small measure that can make a difference.''

Reference Source 89


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