Children are regularly exposed to a wide variety of household and environmental chemicals in the food they eat, clothes they wear, water they drink, and air they breathe. Pound for pound, children have higher exposure to toxic chemicals because they eat, drink, and breathe more for their size than adults. And many of these chemicals, such as lead, mercury, dioxin, pesticides, flame retardant chemicals, and solvents, are harmful to a child's developing body particularly to his or her brain. Because children are exposed to chemicals at such early ages, they have more time for the toxins to accumulate in their bodies and develop diseases that often take years to appear.
Given the nature of the way children live, it is hard to avoid every single chemical threat. For example, children crawl and play on flooring that has solvents, chemical stains, and other toxic chemicals in it or on it. Similarly, pesticides tracked in from lawns onto your home's flooring can contaminate the toys and food that children drop on the floor and then put into their mouths.
One way to protect your children from toxic chemicals is to transition to organic living as much as possible. Dressing your children in organic clothing, feeding organic food, and using organic and natural skin care products are three consumer choices you can make that will have a substantial effect on reducing the chemical burden your child must bear. Collectively, if we all work toward incorporating organic living into our lives, we can help reduce the havoc chemicals have wreaked upon our planet, with the hope that we will leave it healthier for future generations.
UrthChild has developed this article to help you understand the importance of using organic cotton for you and your family.
What is organic cotton?
Organic cotton is grown without pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, or any other chemicals. Clothing made from organic cotton is also processed without chemicals used to treat the fabric for looming and cutting and without dyes that contain heavy metals, dioxin, formaldehyde, or azo (all of which are known or suspected cancer-causing agents or carcinogens). Instead, organic cotton clothing is either left unprocessed or dyed with natural colorants (such as clay) or low-impact environmental dyes.
Why is organic cotton important for my children?
Conventional (non-organic) cotton is the most chemical-dependent crop in the world (see below). Because residue from these toxic chemicals remains in conventional cotton fiber, it is important that babies and children wear clothing made from organic cotton.
The toxic chemicals used in conventional cotton agriculture and processing can be absorbed by babies thin and delicate skin, especially because of the clothing's prolonged contact on the child's skin. Once absorbed by the skin, these toxins accumulate in the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and bones. This accumulation can cause a wide variety of health problems ranging from skin rashes, headaches, trouble concentrating, irregular heartbeat, seizures, hyperactivity, and behavior or learning problems. Babies and children are particularly susceptible because of their immature livers, relatively low body mass, and the vulnerability of their developing brains and organs.
From a more holistic perspective, organic cotton clothing (as well as other organic and biodynamic products) retains the positive energy associated with the organically cultivated cotton plant. In this way, the organic cotton clothing brings the life force of the plant directly to your child to aid in both internal and external well-being. Many holistic health care practitioners often recommend wearing organic clothing to prevent illness and aid the recovery of those suffering or recovering from illnesses.
Organic cotton is also important for helping preserve the planet for future generations. Organic cotton uses agricultural methods designed to help sustain the land it grows on, the people who grow and harvest it, as well as the planet. Compost, frequent crop rotations, and cover crop strategies replace synthetic fertilizers to keep the soil healthy and productive. Weeds are controlled by innovative farm machinery, hand labor, or flame devices rather than herbicides. Organic farmers do not use chemicals to eradicate insects; instead, they cultivate a diversity of natural enemies that prey on insect pests and lure pests away from the cotton by planting decoy crops.
What are the problems with conventional (non-organic) cotton?
Conventional (non-organic) cotton takes a huge toll on our planet, accounting for 25% of all pesticide use. One shirt made from conventional cotton requires between 1/3 and 1/4 pound of harmful chemicals. One pair of jeans requires 3/4 pound of chemicals. To fully appreciate the scope of toxic chemical use in conventional cotton agriculture, consider the following:
|• ||Over half of the top 15 chemicals used in conventional cotton agriculture are considered cancer-causing chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency.|
4 million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on 14.4 million acres of conventional cotton in the U.S. in 2000 (USDA).
Over 2 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers were applied to conventional cotton in 2000 (USDA).
It is also important to consider the people who work to harvest cotton. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, and many of these deaths are attributable to conventional cotton farming. Although cotton from the US is mostly machine-picked, cotton is still harvested by hand in many developing countries. Workers who pick organic cotton do not breathe in or ingest toxic chemicals while working the field, and their water supplies are not contaminated by conventionally used agricultural chemicals.
|• ||Look for clothing brands that are certified organic by independent third party certification organizations, such as Demeter, SKAL, Oko-Tek, GOTS, and others. Cotton grown on land free of chemicals for three years is certified as "organic". Cotton grown on fields that have been free of chemicals for less than three years is certified as "transitional organic".|
Consider organic wool as an excellent option for children's clothing. Clothing made from organic wool is almost entirely hypoallergenic, is breathable, keeps baby's skin dry, is naturally flame resistant, and doesn't need to be washed frequently. A good airing-out once in awhile is all organic wool needs even if baby had a little accident on the wool (because urine and lanolin in wool combine to form a self-cleaning soap). A good rule of thumb is to dress baby in a wool layer in months with an "R" in their spelling. Conventional (non-organic) wool should be avoided, however, because it often contains DDT-like pesticides, as well as harsh, toxic chemicals used in processing wool. Incidentally, wool treatment chemicals and pesticides in lanolin are often what people react to when they say they have a "wool allergy"; people are rarely allergic to organic wool.
Read food labels to see if the food contains cottonseed oil. If so, make sure the cottonseed oil is certified organic by the USDA or state certification organization.