Raising Healthy Children

The Newsletter of the Children's Environmental Health Center             September 2011

Our Mission: Protecting Children Against Environmental Threats to Health

Dr. Landrigan

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan

Director, CEHC

In This Issue
Our Guide to Non-Toxic School Supplies
Top 10 Questions to Ask at Your Child's School
How to Start an Environmental Group
CEHC in the Blogosphere
About the CEHC
Dear Friends of the Children's Environmental Health Center,

I am excited to share a special back-to-school edition of our newsletter with you! 


We know that the back-to-school season is often a stressful time. Classes are beginning, homework compiles, and sports practices start lining up. But how do we know our children are healthy at school or at daycare? As a parent, you already have enough to worry about; that's why CEHC created a special back-to-school guide for parents.  


In this special issue:   

  • We teach you how to pick the safest school supplies.
  • We share the top 10 questions you should ask when examining environmental hazards at your school or daycare center. 
  • We show you how to take action at your child's school by organizing an environmental action group.   
  • And finally, we highlight some of our recent blog posts in Rodale Voices and with KevinMD. Read on to learn about our research in autism and learning disabilities.

On behalf of our team, I hope you had a wonderful summer, and I wish you a healthy back-to-school season.



Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc

Director, Children's Environmental Health Center

Mount Sinai School of Medicine


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  Back to School with CEHC:
How to Pick the Safest School Supplies


As the back-to-school season quickly approaches,  

Dr. Landrigan shares his top tips for selecting non-toxic products.


We all want to ensure that our children are safe at school - from the buildings they dwell in to the products they use. To pick the least toxic school supplies, follow Dr. Landrigan's easy guide:  

Lunch boxes made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can contain toxins like lead and phthalates. Choose ones that are labeled lead safe, lead free, vinyl free, or PVC free. Consider using safer alternatives like cotton lunch bags or stainless steel lunchboxes. If you buy a plastic lunchbox, make sure it is not made with the plastics #3 (may contain PVC), #6 (may contain polystyrene) or #7 (may contain BPA).

Notebooks, binders, and backpacks with plastic covers can also contain PVC. Make sure your child's binder does not use plastic #3 (may contain PVC). Choose binders with natural fiber covers or find ones that are labeled PVC free. If natural fiber backpacks are not an option at your local store, choose polyester or nylon backpacks - both are better than other PVC alternatives.  

Rigid plastic bottles may contain the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). We know that the use of BPA in plastics has steadily increased over the past decades, making it one of the most commonly produced chemicals in the world. Thus, choose BPA-free water bottles or use stainless steel alternatives. 

Art supplies can contain many toxic substances. While the federal government has labeled all toxic art supplies, this does not ensure the safety of all products. If a product reads Conforms to ASTM D-4236, this means that it has been labeled non-toxic by the government. However, this does not mean that it is safe. To ensure safer products, follow these steps:

  • Oil paints should be kept away from young children. Make sure that paints are water-based to avoid toxic solvents.
  • Imported pastels can contain toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury compounds. Keep them away from children.
  • Substitute rubber cement or "super" glue with water-based glue and adhesives, such as white glue, glue sticks, or double-sided tape.
  • Do not buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or bake in a home oven; they are made from PVC and often contain phthalates.
  • Pick unscented pens and pencils, made without paint or glossy coatings.
  • Do not use dry-erase and permanent markers, as they contain toxic solvents. Avoid scented markers - scents may contain phthalates and they also encourage children to taste the marker.  


Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World (2001) by Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, Herbert L. Needleman, MD, and Mary Landrigan, MPA and EWG's Back-to-School Guide (2011). 


An Environmental Checklist for Your Child's
School and Daycare Center


The CEHC team shares the most important questions to ask and outlines action steps to address potential toxic threats. 


Since your child spends so much time at home, you've probably done as much as you can to keep your home safe. But what about your schools and daycare centers? How do you know if they are safe from environmental hazards?

To make it easy, we have prepared an interactive list with the most important questions to ask at your school or daycare center. Simply answer each question and follow the action step that accompanies each answer.

Check out our new guide: 

An Environmental Checklist for Your School or Daycare Center:

The Top 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask

  Take Action! 
How to Create an Environmental Action Group at Your Child's School


One of the best ways to prevent environmental hazards at school is to start a parents' action group. Learn how!


Step 1.  Talk to other parents or the school administration and see if your school already has an environmental action group. Often times, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) have environmental committees.

Step 2.  If no group exists, think about bringing together a small group of parents and community members. Once you have your core group, start looking for environmental hazards and issues to tackle.

Step 3.  Start by identifying easy, simple issues. Perhaps you've observed school buses idling their engines by classrooms. Suggest another area for the school to park the buses. An easy success is the best way to motivate a group to take on larger issues.   

Step 4.  Communicate through the right channels. Knowing the channels of communication can go a long way in helping advance an issue. Consider PTA meetings or meetings with teachers as good channels.  

Step 5.  Present your case as a "win-win" situation for both the children and the school administration. Back-up your argument with references. Have experts from the community speak at meetings. 

Step 6.  Follow up to make sure the problem has been solved. Give the school administration a reasonable amount of time to ponder your solution and get the problem solved. If nothing happens, send a gentle reminder. 

Step 7. Move to more difficult issues. Gather as much research as you can to tackle harder issues. Devise a strategic plan: Make a list of key people who support your position and note any key decision-makers. Then, develop your plan for convincing decision-makers to see things your way. Once you've achieved your goal, don't forget to thank those who have helped, both personally and publicly.

Need resources?

Don't forget that CEHC is here to help!

Contact info@cehcenter.org for more information.

Adapted from Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World (2001) by Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, Herbert L. Needleman, MD, and Mary Landrigan, MPA.  

CEHC in the Blogosphere
Check out some of our recent blog posts: 


Prenatal phthalate exposure associated with autistic-like behavior?

Read more in Rodale Voices.


What are the environmental causes of autism and ADHD?  

Read more in KevinMD.




Formally established in 2007, the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center builds on Dr. Philip J. Landrigan's three decades of work in children's environmental health and fifteen years of research in environmental pediatrics at Mount Sinai. CEHC has established itself as a leading source of scientifically credible information on issues related to children's health and the environment.

Our mission is to protect children against environmental threats to health. We do this by guiding, supporting, and building the programs of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Current projects include:

The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), our clinical arm which cares for children with toxic environmental exposures.


Pilot Project Research Grants Program, CEHC's signature program, providing seed grants for Mount Sinai-wide initiatives into the environmental causes of learning disabilities (including autism), asthma, obesity/diabetes, and childhood cancer.

The Endocrine Disruptors Project, studying the effects of endocrine disruptors on neurodevelopmental disorders, obesity, early puberty, and other alterations in the proper functioning of the endocrine system.


The Autism and Learning Disabilities Discovery and Prevention Project, a multi-disciplinary, inter-departmental study recently launched to explore the link between neurodevelopmental disorders and environmental exposures.


Growing Up Healthy in East Harlem, tracing the effects of pollutant exposures on children's health in the inner city. 

 In 2010, the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center was designated a Collaborating Centre in Children's Environmental Health by the World Health Organization.  

To make a donation to support CEHC's work, please send a check payable to:


The Mount Sinai School of Medicine

 ATTN: Children's Environmental Health Center


Mail to:
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Mount Sinai Development, Box 1049
One Gustave L. Levy Place
New York, NY 10029

Telephone: 212-824-7125
Mail: One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1057, New York, NY 10029 

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