During the Democratic convention the Reverend Al Sharpton quoted a shocking statistic: One third of the children in Harlem suffer from asthma. This shouldn’t be completely surprising since asthma cases have been consistently increasing over the years, especially in the cities, escalating recently during the rollback of some key environmental laws, but it is a trend we must turn back.
While parents have only limited control over the environment where they raise their children, there is a personal environmental decision they can make that may dramatically reduce the symptoms their children experience. It all comes down to detergent, and not just any detergent. It is the detergent that they use to wash their children’s clothes and sheets. The biggest selling detergents in the United States contain large amounts of irritating phosphates, which are not only a major irritant to the skin and respiratory system, but a source of serious pollution, and a component in global warming.
If you are wondering if your laundry detergent contains phosphates just read the label, it is listed there. In most industrialized countries phosphate detergents are outlawed for good reason, but in the United States the chemical industry has a strong lobby and cheap phosphates help manufacturers keep their costs low, so their use continues. The next time you walk though the laundry detergent section of your supermarket, take a deep breath and notice how much the smell irritates your nose and lungs.
What kinds of detergent contain low, or no phosphates? Baby detergent! No mother would dream of washing their newborn’s clothes and sheets in the family’s powdered detergent! That would give their baby’s delicate skin rashes, not to mention an increase in crying and crankiness. There are many readily available natural detergents that are phosphate-free and it’s worth the time to find them.
We have noticed tremendous improvements for both children and adults when their clothes and sheets are consistently washed in a phosphate-free detergent. By itself this change may not alleviate all of the symptoms of asthma and those related skin rashes, but it clearly removes an insidious irritant from the equation.
It might be helpful to explain why this simple change is so effective. Testing in Europe shows that, while sleeping, people are between two thousand and ten thousand times more sensitive to chemical and electromagnetic pollution than while they are awake. When a child’s pajamas are washed with a chemical irritant and they sleep on bedclothes containing those same toxins, their immune system is challenged nightly, during a time when they are most vulnerable. Their body’s nutritional reserves are consumed in that battle and they are less able to defend themselves from the pollutants they encounter during their day. Asthma and allergies are not produced by a single irritant, but by an accumulation of minor irritants that eventually overwhelm the body’s ability to adapt. It is not a huge leap to imagine that removing a respiratory irritant from the sleeping environment, where a person spends one third of their time, is going to produce an improvement in a child’s ability to breathe.