October 31 2013
U.S. News & World Report
We've entered scary season.
On Halloween, people actually enjoy getting spooked. Yet increasingly, feeling frightened isn't a choice or a once-a-year occurrence. Each day, Americans, particularly moms, are told they should be terrified – not of monsters, goblins and ghosts – but of their spray cleaner, makeup, moisturizer, their children's clothing and the food they eat.
Why is every day Halloween for so many American moms? The reason is simple: Environmental organizations realize that fear is profitable and effective, and moms are eating it up in spite of the high cost to their family's budget, their confidence as mothers and their sense of safety and security.
Consider how these groups approach Halloween. Weeks before Halloween season kicks off, activist organizations provide moms with a handy list of ways they can make their own lives more difficult.
Moms are warned that costumes made of a common plastic called Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, are dangerous and potentially cancer causing. In spite of the activists' scary tales, rational moms should recognize that unless their child is eating, snorting, drinking or melting down then injecting their plastic Superman or Dora the Explorer mask, they won't be harmed by the PVC.
Parents are also told to avoid flame-retardants, because again, according to the activists, these chemicals cause cancer. But parents would be wise to ignore this dangerous advice, especially around Halloween since fire, not flame-retardants, is the real risk. According to the American Academy of Emergency Physicians, burns to children due to flammable costumes are a relatively common Halloween injury. That's why the AAEP and the Centers for Disease Control, along with several other fire and safety organizations including the International Association of Fire Fighters and the American Red Cross, recommend children wear costumes that contain flame-retardants.
Activists also helpfully warn parents that glow sticks contain harmful chemicals and should be avoided. Well, of course this is true, if little Susie first breaks the thick casing and then begins drinking the no-doubt disgusting tasting glow-y contents. But rather than bar Susie from running around with a glow stick while trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, why not just keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't eat it?
In fact, glow sticks are considered by many safety authorities not to be a hazard, but a safety device. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are more likely to be hit by cars on Halloween than at any other time of year. This tragedy might be avoided if children were more visible to passing cars on dark nights. Flashlights are helpful, but those can be lost in the rush to grab handfuls of candy. Instead, my husband and I opt to swathe our children in glow-bracelets and glow-necklaces. Yes, they contain things that kids shouldn't drink, but we suspect our kids are more interested in eating the candy they've just collected anyway.
Sadly, too many parents fall victim to the alarmists' house of horrors, which in addition to often being counter-productive in terms of safety, also takes some of the fun out of what should be a parenting highlight.
Here's some good news for parents to consider: Children born today live in a safer, cleaner and healthier environment than ever before. Americans aren't only living longer than at any time in history, they are living longer, disease free. If one is to accept the alarmists' simplistic "chemicals cause cancer" narrative, then one would expect to see cancer rates increasing as chemical use has increased (which it has, in order to better preserve food and keep toys and other products safer for human contact). Yet, according to the National Cancer Institute, cancer rates among men have declined since 1975 and declined for women until 2006, after which rates stabilized.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study entitled "The State of US Health, 1990–2010," which suggested the way to avoid premature death isn't by taking the advice of these alarmists and throwing out all modern products. Rather, the best way to extend life is "through the reduction of key risk factors, such as healthier diets, less smoking, reduced alcohol and drug use, weight loss, and the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure and high blood sugar." Nowhere in the report does it mention limiting one's access to trace levels of chemicals in common, everyday products – like little Johnny's Halloween costume.
So, this Halloween, enjoy the adrenaline rush of the haunted house and the joy of watching your kids trick-or-treat, but put away the alarmism about your child's costume. You don't need to feel spooked all year.