INTERVIEW SERIES | Making It Work
Aida Garcia-Toledo, 3 Little Plums Founder
Liz and Lizzy sat down with Aida Garcia-Toledo,
founder of 3 Little Plums, to hear about her journey learning about the toxins in our everyday environment and the small steps you can take to reduce you and your family’s exposure.
Your site Three Little Plums is an incredible resource for people looking to reduce the environmental toxins in their everyday lives. And it’s especially relevant for new parents, as they’re putting together a Nursery and thinking about all the new baby items they need, and maybe for the first time really considering the health-impact of their home and the things they put in it.
But let’s start at the beginning, what inspired you to start educating families about health and toxins?
14 years ago, I became pregnant for the first time. I remember my older sister told me I should get an organic crib mattress for the baby, and I wasn't sure why. At that time, I was working as an investigative news producer, so I did what I did every day–I started to investigate! Turns out, the more I researched, the more I realized it wasn't just mattresses that were exposing babies (and all of us) to toxins; it was a bunch of chemicals in everyday items.
I felt overwhelmed. I also found that my friends, who were starting to have kids then, too, had no idea about toxins either, and they would also get overwhelmed. So I started writing everything down that I was learning and shared it all with them.
Now that I have a much deeper understanding, I want to help other mamas make small but meaningful changes over time.
What are everyday toxins and how are they affecting us?
Generally, you want to stay away from all plastic as much as possible. And whenever possible, stick to “natural” untreated / organic materials like: wood, organic cotton, wool, silk etc. In my opinion, the closer to nature, the better.
There are also good certifications you can seek out that can help identify a better material / product.
I like :
- GOTS certified organic for organic textiles
- Made Safe certified
- EWG certified
When those are not available, these certifications are not perfect but good too:
- OEKO TEX Standard 100 - for textiles. (This certification does certify synthetic textiles.)
- Greenguard Gold - for emissions, particularly VOC emissions in furniture.
You have a lot of info on your site about specific toxins. As parents with young kids, what are the ones we should be most concerned about?
It’s really important to realize that young children are more vulnerable than adults to all toxins. Their detoxifying organs are not as developed and are smaller in size. So what would be a very small exposure for us adults might mean a proportionally larger exposure for a child. Also, their habits are very different. Children are often on the floor, touching everything and putting their hands in their mouth, and they’re often not as good at washing their hands as adults.
The chemicals I am most concerned about during childhood include:
- Heavy metals, like lead. Lead is a neurotoxin and there are no safe levels of lead, so this one is important. Sadly, lead can be found in much more than just old paint: water, toys, everyday kitchen and home products, adult jewelry kids play with etc can all be sneaky sources of lead. My general rule of thumb is to avoid letting kids play with / put in mouth any item that is not specifically designed to be a toy for children. (Toys in the US require heavy metal testing that limits lead to 90 ppm. It's not perfect, but at least testing is required. A product meant for your kitchen or jewelry meant for a teenager or adult does not require lead testing and so could contain 1000 ppm of lead, for example, and would still be legal to sell because it’s not meant for children.)
- Endocrine disruptors. There are so many chemicals that fall under the umbrella of endocrine disruption. I can talk about this for hours, but in a nutshell, endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that mimic our hormones. These will be linked to infertility, cancer, obesity, diabetes, thyroid problems, etc. Some of the most common endocrine disruptors that children are often exposed to include:
- PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances): These are chemicals used in steam, free or water resistant colors. For children, you see them in winter gear like jackets and boots, as well as raincoats. They can also be found in non-stick pots and pans, performance fabrics in upholstery and furniture, just to name a few.
- Phthalates: These are tricky because they can be found in a couple of different types of products. They make plastic like PVC flexible, so they are often found in soft plastics. They can also be found in fragrance, as these are the chemicals that help fragrance chemicals bind to products. One of the main routes of exposure are processed foods, even when they are organic.
- Bisphenols: Almost everyone has heard of BPA and thankfully the PA has been taken out of a lot of children’s products, which we can appreciate by reading labels that say BPA free everywhere. However, they have often been replaced by other bisphenols, which are also endocrine disrupting.
So what are some labels that you look for to avoid these endocrine disruptors? (or if not via labels, how do you look for the safe products and food?)
Sadly there are no labels or easy ways to identify endocrine disruptors. They are quite prevalent in everyday items we use and are exposed to, which is why it's so tricky to identify them and remove them from our everyday routine. A good start, however, is to reduce exposure to plastics, fragrances, and stain/water/grease resistant products.
If you could recommend one or two quick toxin-reducing changes we could make in our homes within a weekend, let's say, what would they be?
- Dust more often. One of the main sources of toxin exposure is dust. Chemicals like phthalates, flame retardants, PFAS and more migrate from everyday items (electronics, furniture, construction material) into dust, and we then breathe the dust in or, especially if you have kids, they touch the dust on the floor etc and place their hands in their mouth thus ingesting the dust (and the chemicals). By reducing dust, we reduce one of the main source of toxins that are inside our home.
- Open your windows! Let toxins that have built up indoors escape, and let fresh air in to circulate.
- Wash your hands!! Especially for little kids: they explore and touch everything which is super important for development–it’s something you want to encourage but it's also a habit that can expose them to chemicals and dust and different items. Easiest way to mitigate this is to simply wash hands often, and at a minimum, when you get home and before eating.
Pregnant women get most of their health advice from their doctors, of course. Would you have anything to add that a doctor might not mention?
So much! I wish doctors would refer families who are pregnant or looking to get pregnant to sites like mine. Fetal development is the most important time in human development. Every single chemical that a mother is exposed to will cross the placenta and expose the child. We know that cord blood has been tested to contain over 250 chemicals, so essentially our children are being born pre-polluted. I think it’s a failure of modern day medicine to not address chemical exposure during pregnancy with women thinking of becoming pregnant or already pregnant. A lot of the exposure that a fetus has during development will be responsible for health effects in children from behavioral issues, to propensity for obesity, cancers, diabetes, etc. Just as doctors tell women not to drink alcohol or not to eat mercury food, they should also be telling them to reduce their exposure to artificial fragrances, plastics, PFAS chemicals, drink filtered water, etc.
You most recently had your third child about a year ago. Are there any all-natural baby products you have recently discovered and loved?
It is much easier to find and use low toxic products for babies than it was 13 years ago! I discovered Lewis for one thing! I love all of the pretty prints and particularly loved using your swaddles because they are soft, large in size and are super effective in holding its shape when swaddling. Even though I don’t swaddle my baby any more, I still use the swaddle as a lightweight stroller blanket, beach blanket, etc.
I really like kiss kiss goodnight prebiotic bath gels for baby’s sensitive skin. I also love my bumbleride stroller which is not only free of flame retardants, PFAs and vinyl, but just all around eco-friendly (cork handlebar!) and has a GOTS certified infant insert I love.
There can be a lot of fear surrounding environmental toxins (because they’re seemingly everywhere!), especially when it comes to the health of our children. How do you speak to that and what do you hope people will learn from your site?
The key takeaway is that small steps add up. You don’t have to implement a huge overhaul overnight. I always try to remind people that they shouldn’t compare their toxic journey to anyone else. I have been doing this for almost 14 years, and it would be unfair to compare everything that I do at home with someone who has been doing this for a year. I hope that by showing what I do and why I do it that I inspire someone to make small changes over time. Also, you can’t live in a non-toxic bubble. So balance is important.