Green Mom or Chemophobe?

By Rachel Sarnoff

I would step in front of a bus for my kids, as would most moms. I make sure they have sweaters when it’s cold, and water when it’s warm. I worry when they don’t get enough sleep, and go on red alert when they cough or sniffle.

I also feed them primarily organic meals, try to reduce their BPA exposure by using more reusable water bottles and less canned foods, avoid food dyes and other artificial ingredients, pack their beach bags with zinc-based sunscreen, refuse triclosan or other pesticides, and clean my home with vinegar so they don’t have to inhale synthetic fragrances.

I think that all of these things make me a good mom. But a growing number of people think some make me a “chemophobe,” defined—by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, natch—as an “irrational fear of chemicals.”

Let’s be clear: I am not irrational. Nor am I afraid of chemicals. I understand that, in essence, our world is made up of chemicals. But I do believe there is a difference between the natural bonding of hydrogen and oxygen that join together to make water, and the petroleum-derived and artificially generated synthetic chemicals used to make most of the stuff in our world—from fragrance to food.

I think we should take seriously studies that show links between pesticides and cancer, BPA and hormonal dysfunction, food dyes and ADHD, oxybenzone in sunscreen with hormonal disruption, and synthetic fragrance with obesity, among other problems.

And I believe that, in general, studies are too narrow in focus; typically, they fail to take into account how many we are exposed to, and rarely measure how those synthetic chemicals interact inside our bodies.

When these exposures are measured in animals, the results are frightening: One recent study found cancer risks doubled when two carcinogens were present at “safe” levels. In this case, the study measured arsenic and estrogen and found that together they doubled the risk of cancer in prostate cells.

A recent study of humans found that 99% – 100% of pregnant women tested positive for BPA, leading researchers to declare “universal fetal exposure” of the substance. A full 36% of the subjects recorded BPA levels shown to negatively affect animal development.

Over the past decade, the changes that I’ve instigated—from chemical cleaners to vinegar, from packaged foods to mostly organic, from perfumed to truly fragrance-free—haven’t been difficult. In fact, if I didn’t talk to my kids regularly about what we’re doing and why we do it, they probably wouldn’t even notice.

I don’t know if these changes have helped my three kids stay healthy, which—knock on wood—they are. But I do know that living this way makes me feel that I am doing everything I can to keep them safe.

Chemophobic? I don’t think so. Good mom? Abso-friggin-lutely.


Rachel SarnoffAbout The Author

Better known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children magazine—before she had three of her own. Rachel was featured in Los Angeles and Lucky magazines and appeared on “The Today Show” and “CNN Headline News,” among others, to share advice about healthier living with less judgement. The author of The Big List of Things That Suck and partner at Give + Take swap shop in Los Angeles, Rachel also, where “you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to raise healthy kids.” Follow her and



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