Are Your Kids at Risk from Lead in City-Grown Produce?

Last updated on March 9th, 2018 at 12:40 am

I am currently about halfway through completion of my Masters in Public Health and I am fascinated and motivated by everything I am learning and doing in the program. According to the website What is Public Health?, this discipline is “the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention.” Basically we look at potential risks to the health of whole populations and try to prevent problems before they occur.

Unfortunately, sometimes the policies and interventions we  promote can have unintended consequences. This was brought home to me by two recent news reports about urban gardening that I saw shortly after attending an inner-city community meeting about neighborhood soil lead levels.

After learning from geology professor and lead expert, Gabriel Filippelli, from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, that most urban soil has elevated lead levels, often as much as 2-10 times the levels acceptable for children’s play areas – I was concerned to hear on the local radio that our city has seen great success with recent inner-city gardening initiatives, with produce from these gardens now making their way into local farmers’ markets. While it’s great to see efforts to improve the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, the problem is that soil lead levels in these areas can be dangerously high; particularly if the gardens are in areas with pre-1978 housing, are located near major roads or freeways, or are situated within a few miles of former industrial areas. And the perils of lead in community gardens are not just an issue in my backyard. An article last week in The New York Times reported on a recent New York State Health Department study showing that about half the eggs they sourced from community gardens in the NY boroughs had detectable lead levels.

So What’s the Issue?

High lead levels are toxic to the brain – particularly for young children whose brains are rapidly developing. The damage to the brain from chronic lead poisoning – including reductions in IQ, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating – is permanent.

While much of the lead hazard these days is from residual lead paint in and around older homes, the soil in most urban areas has become permeated with lead over the decades due to our past use of leaded fuel and paints, and any former urban industrial activity. As a result, digging around in or eating food grown in city soil can potentially increase your family’s lead exposure. This becomes an even bigger concern if you shop at local farmers’ markets that may be sourcing produce from city gardens.

What Can We Do?

Getting the soil in your yard tested is a good place to start to determine your own risks – for your garden and your family. Many local health departments, university research centers and private labs will do soil tests for reasonable fees. However, if you know you have high lead levels – or are just concerned about the possibility – there are efforts you can make to reduce the hazard, including where you locate your garden, mulching, and creating raised garden beds with clean-sourced topsoil. The National Gardening Association provides a good overview of precautions you can take. An Australian website, Lead Action News, also provides good advice on dealing with lead contamination.

If you are worried about produce in local farmers’ markets, ask sellers about out the source of their fruits and vegetables. Are any of the gardens located within city – or even suburb – boundaries? What steps have been taken in these gardens to minimize lead contamination? If they can’t provide you with these details, then you may want to avoid buying produce that tend to absorb more lead from both soil and city air – such as root crops and leafy vegetables. The box below, from Lead Action News, gives an overview of lead absorption across different types of crops.  And for crops that have low lead uptake, be sure to carefully clean all soil from the produce before storage and use.

HIGH uptake of lead:  Lettuce, Spinach, Carrot, Endive, Cress, Beetroot

MODERATE uptake:  Onion, Mustard, Potato, Radish

LOW uptake:  Corn, Cauliflower, Asparagus, Celery, Berries

VERY LOW uptake:  Beans, Peas, Melon, Tomatoes, Fruit, Paprika

Health Hazards of Paper Receipts for You and Your Family

Last updated on September 13th, 2015 at 02:04 am

The next time a cashier asks you if you want your receipt in your hand or in the bag, opt for the bag. Better yet, if you don’t need the receipt for your records, opt out of it altogether. And pay by credit or debit card so you don’t have to handle money either.

Why the drastic measures? A new study, done in part by the New York State Department of Health, found that thermal receipts, paper currency and other paper products from the U.S. and three other countries contained high levels of bisphenol S (BPS) – a substitute for the compound bisphenol A (BPA), which has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in baby bottles and sippy cups because it’s been linked to infertility, cancers and genetic mutations, mainly in animal studies. (Read more about BPA here – and updated FDA guidance on BPA in food contact here.)

BPS: A Poor Substitute

Many manufacturers are switching over to BPS in such products as receipt paper to comply with restrictions and regulations around the world. But there’s still a big problem. Researchers have discovered that like its cousin BPA, BPS is what’s called an endocrine disrupter. That means it mimics our own natural hormones, particularly estrogen, and like BPA, it’s absorbed directly through the skin.

Although BPS might be less potent than BPA, it also may be less biodegradable. While further study is needed, BPS is being introduced into the environment – and into your hands and the recesses of your wallet – every day.

In the current study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, all of the receipt paper, 87 percent of the paper currency and 52 percent of the recycled paper contained BPS. The study also suggests that people may be absorbing BPS in large doses through the skin. (Read more about the study here.)

So What Should You Do?

You can avoid the potential threat by asking for e-receipts and handling paper receipts and money as little as possible. Or “wash your hands soon after touching” the tainted paper, says researcher Kurunthachalam Kannan of the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York at Albany.

There are other good reasons to avoid receipts. According to Market Watch in The Wall Street Journal, ATM receipts are one of the top sources of planetary litter. They estimate that if everyone in the U.S. would refuse one receipt, it would save a roll of paper more than 2 billion feet long. That would circle the equator 15 times. And that’s one paper trail we don’t want to follow.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 10-08-2012 to 10-14-2012

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 04:52 pm

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 10 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

The Digital Divide: How Teens Are Fooling Their Parents

Halloween Costumes for Special Needs Kids

Last updated on October 10th, 2018 at 04:19 am

Little Carter has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, so his dad made him an amazing ice cream truck costume that incorporates the chair. Carter, as Buster’s Ice Cream, has gone viral on the internet thanks to his dad’s creativity and his adorableness.

Need some ideas for a special needs child in a wheelchair this Halloween? Check out my article from 2009. The Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation has some great ideas, including Fred Flintstone in his car, a drummer with a drum set, Cinderella in her coach, a flower garden and more. The bulldozer driver costume here is great, too.

Here are some more ideas from my own brainstorming session:

  • The Lincoln Memorial
  • A judge
  • A toll booth operator
  • A UPS driver
  • For tweens and teens looking for something more edgy, try an electric chair victim

If your child uses a walker you can use that as part of the costume, too. A sushi chef, bartender, hot dog vendor, keyboard player or even Mr. Fredrickson from Up are just a few ideas (don’t forget the tennis balls!). Feeding tubes or other medical equipment can also be accomodated or camoflauged with some extra planning and creativity.

As you construct a costume or take a child out for Halloween, keep safety and comfort in mind:

  • Use reflective material, glowsticks or lights
  • Be sure masks or hoods allow the child to see well enough
  • Keep hems short to avoid tripping
  • Use soft materials and take the child’s sensory needs into consideration

Share your ideas in the comments! Add photos on my Facebook page.

Happy Halloween!

Why Kids Really Lie – and How to Stop It

Last updated on September 13th, 2015 at 01:18 am

Kids tell little lies every day – about who spilled the juice and whether they brushed their teeth – but they don’t always mean to deceive. “Lying is a self-protective device that children learn to use at different ages and stages,” says education professor Sally Goldberg, developer of the blog Parenting Tips with Dr. Sally. “It’s perfectly normal, but how you handle it is important.”

Learning why kids lie is the first step in getting them to stop.

The Age: Toddlers

Why Kids Lie: Kids as young as 2 and 3 may tell simple lies (e.g., “I didn’t try to sit on the sleeping dog”), usually to avoid something unpleasant or to get something they want. But they don’t always grasp that fibbing is wrong.

Coming Clean: Don’t accuse your child of wrongdoing and ask her to fess up; that just sets her up to lie. Instead, focus on why her action is problematic. “When the dog is sleeping, he gets scared when something lands on him. He squealed because he was startled, and he may even be hurt.”

The Age: Preschoolers

Why Kids Lie: Fear of punishment is still a driving force behind lying. But at this stage, kids have rich imaginations (“Elmo ate a cookie in my bed!”) that easily transform wishful thinking to reality. Boasting (“I can do 1,000 somersaults in a row!”) is the kid version of keeping up with the Joneses.

Coming Clean: Don’t bother arguing that Elmo is a puppet on TV. Simply focus on what happened – someone ate a cookie in the bedroom, which isn’t allowed – and suggest a way to fix it: “Should we go clean up those crumbs together?”

The Age: Elementary school kids/preteens

Why Kids Lie: By this age, lying has become a misguided survival tactic. It’s not at all unusual for kids to lie occasionally to avoid punishment and skirt their chores, but now they’ll also lie to boost their self-esteem, impress their friends and otherwise assert control.

Coming Clean: Try to determine what drove your child to lie, and help her find better ways to address the problem. If she said she did her chores, you may need to adjust your expectations; if she insists there’s no math homework (because she’s having trouble in math), offer to do it together.

Parents need to teach the value of honesty, says Goldberg. Let your kids know that lying can hurt their credibility and relationships. Thank them when they tell the truth, even if it’s ugly. And model honesty yourself.

Comfort Your Child: Sick Day TLC

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 06:39 pm

Help make your little one’s sick day a little better with some creative touches you can both feel good about.

Feed a Cold

Sick kids don’t always want to eat, but it’s important to make sure they get enough nutrients. Make a game of it by playing restaurant: Give your child a menu of healthy choices, write his “order” down on a notepad, then deliver the meal on a tray. Keep it fun with foods like “orange smiles” (oranges sliced into smiles); toast cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters; or chicken soup served in a thermos. To soothe a sore throat, Amy Clark, founder of, suggests fruit-juice popsicles or a fruit smoothie (a mix of ice, yogurt and fruit in a blender). For a fun, fizzy drink, mix a colorful electrolyte juice with ginger ale and serve in a fancy glass – don’t forget the silly straw!

Make a Sick Day Special

Keep a few special items on hand that you only pull out for sick days. Clark suggests hitting a thrift store to buy a small, inexpensive suitcase. Decorate it with brightly colored buttons and bows, and fill it with some special items: pajamas with your kid’s favorite cartoon character on them, a mug with a family photo on it, and a few toys, games, coloring books, puzzles and art supplies reserved just for sick days.

Try a Spoonful of Sugar

Get little ones to take their medicine by mixing liquids or crushed pills with something sweet, like a smoothie, pudding, applesauce or fruit-flavored yogurt. (Just be sure to ask your pediatrician or pharmacist if it’s OK first, and make sure your child takes the entire dose.) You can also make liquid meds fun by using a medicine dropper instead of a spoon — let your child squirt it into his own mouth one drop at a time.

Soothe Aches and Pains

For a fever, congestion, or aches and pains associated with the flu, a little TLC can go a long way. Try massaging your little one’s aching neck and shoulders. Clark also suggests filling a tube sock with rice and freezing it to use as a cold pack. Help to clear a stuffy head by enclosing yourselves in the bathroom with a steamy shower: Clark recommends letting your child wear his bathing suit for a “day on a tropical island,” and for a special touch, adding bubbles and tub toys.

Create a Comfort Zone

Kids need to get a lot of quiet rest when they’re sick. Create a space where they’ll actually want to relax by pitching a tent in the living room and filling it with a sleeping bag, pillows and a flashlight, as well as some favorite books, stuffed animals and quiet activities like puzzles and board games.

Play Doctor

Keep a toy doctor’s kit on hand, and with your kid, practice looking into each other’s ears, giving pretend shots and listening to each other’s coughs. Be the nurse and come in to check on your “patient” often. Fluff the pillows, take his temperature and listen to his heartbeat.

Go Old-school

Skip the TV, video games and movies, and instead take advantage of some quality quiet time with your child. Play a few rounds of tic-tac-toe, I Spy, Go Fish or charades. Make up stories, cut out paper dolls, sort through old photographs, or pull out some old board games, puzzles and coloring books.

Reach Out

When you’re away from your sick kid, Clark suggests keeping in touch by using a baby monitor – many of the newer models offer two-way communications. You can also give your child a bell, a walkie-talkie or a cell phone to get your attention when you’re needed.

Turn the Lights Out

Help your kid get into “rest mode” by pulling down the shades, turning off the lights and playing some quiet activities together in bed. Carole Kranowitz and Joye Newman, authors of Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn and Grow suggest a game of ceiling flashlight tag or shadow puppets on the wall. Stick some glow-in-the-dark stars on your child’s ceiling and make wishes. Tell ghost stories (not too scary – you want your kid to fall asleep!). Or just lie down, cuddle up and take a nap together.