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Are There Hidden Health Hazards In Your Baby’s Nursery?
Would you expose your newborn to formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and pesticides? Of course not! Even if you were told it shouldn’t affect your baby’s health, you don’t want to take that chance. However, one of the first things we do as parents-to-be is prepare the nursery for our baby. We paint, buy a crib, mattress and bedding, and maybe even install new carpeting in the room where our baby will spend most of his first year.
Did you know that these products contain formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, pesticide residues and other chemicals that can affect your baby’s health and development?
It’s bad enough that we expose ourselves to these chemicals, but it’s even worse for our children. Babies are more sensitive to toxins than adults for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is that babies are much smaller and therefore have a lower tolerance for toxins. Babies also develop very quickly, and any chemical that interferes with the growth and development process will affect them more than an adult. Babies also take in more air than adults relative to their body size, which means they inhale more toxins than adults. Finally, many toxic gases commonly found in homes are heavier than air and settle near the floor where children play.
As parents, we can take many steps to make our home a more natural and safe place to raise healthy children. Below are the sources of many household toxins and what you can do to prevent or reduce your child’s and yourself’s risk of exposure.
Flame retardants are probably one of the first toxins your baby will encounter in the home. While it may seem like you never sleep with your newborn in the house, babies actually sleep a lot—about 60% of their first year! That’s a lot of time to spend in close contact with a mattress treated with flame retardants called PBDEs. Several animal studies have found that PBDEs accumulate in the body over time, and exposure during critical periods of growth can cause permanent damage to the reproductive and nervous systems.(1). PBDEs are chemically similar to PCBs, which were banned in 1976 after they were found to cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems in animals.(2). PBDEs have already been banned in Europe, but unfortunately are still widely used in the US. An organic crib mattress is essential for a healthy nursery. Consider purchasing a mattress made from organic cotton or latex and wool. Wool not only regulates temperature, but is also naturally fire retardant. An organic cotton and wool crib mattress will meet the same government standards for flammability as a chemically treated mattress, but is a much more natural option and eliminates any potential PBDE risk.
Most crib bedding is made from cotton, the second most pesticide-treated crop in the world. Of the nine most popular pesticides used in cotton farming, five have been shown to cause cancer, and are ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency as the most dangerous. During the process, even more chemicals are added to turn the raw cotton into cloth. Since your baby will be spending so much time sleeping, it’s helpful to keep his crib bedding free of pesticide residues or chemical contaminants. When shopping for crib bedding, choose those made from organic cotton grown without the use of pesticides. Children also love to put toys in their mouths, so consider buying organic cotton stuffed animals, especially when babies are teething.
Another source of pesticide exposure is the treatment of our homes and yards. Studies show that children exposed to higher levels of pesticides were seven times more likely to develop childhood non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.(3). As an alternative to conventional pesticides, consider using cornmeal in the yard to prevent weed seeds from germinating (available at many garden stores and online). There are several good books written on natural gardening that provide natural solutions to all kinds of lawn and garden problems. My personal favorites are Jerry Baker’s books, which have literally thousands of tips and tricks. Homemade orange peel pesticides are safe, natural and very effective against many common pests.
Most paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released into the air long after the paint dries. This wet paint smell is actually due to the VOCs of the paint evaporating into the air. Healthier paint alternatives would be natural paint, non-VOC paint, or low-VOC paint. Natural colors are the healthiest choice. They are made from natural plant-based compounds and are almost odorless. Zero VOC paints are also a safe choice, they are very easy to work with, have very little or no odor, and are widely available and affordable. By law, paint with 5 grams per liter or less of VOCs can be called zero VOC paint. Paint tinting can add small amounts of VOCs, but typically no more than 10 grams per liter of VOCs, which is still very low. To reduce the amount of VOCs added with shades, choose a pastel or light color for your baby’s nursery. These colors are also very calming and will help your baby relax and fall asleep faster. The VOC content of low-VOC paint varies and is usually written on the label. These paints will often have an odor at least until they dry. No matter what type of paint you use, if you’re pregnant it’s best to let someone else do the painting if possible, or at least choose a safe paint and provide adequate ventilation.
Lead is another consideration when discussing paint toxins. If your home was built before 1978, it may have been painted with lead-based paint. Because lead can cause developmental problems in children, any chipped paint where it can be swallowed is a health hazard. Pregnant women should also be careful to avoid areas where anything that may contain lead-based paint is sanded or processed.
Household cleaning products and baby bath accessories
Most household cleaners are toxic chemicals. Consider using cleaners made from plant and vegetable ingredients and essential oils for fragrance. Instead of using synthetic cleaners on tile or linoleum flooring where your child will be crawling and playing, use a jet cleaner that will disinfect without using chemicals.
Although there are many bath soaps and shampoos on the market made specifically for babies, they are often just milder adult formulas. Read the labels and ask yourself if you want these ingredients (yes…even the ones you can’t pronounce) in your baby’s body. The skin acts as a barrier to some chemicals, but many are absorbed through the skin, a process facilitated by the heat and humidity of bathing. Natural soaps, lotions and oils are always the best choice for your baby.
Traditional carpets and the adhesives sometimes used to install them can be a toxic nightmare. Carpets contain too many VOCs to name, except for neurotoxins like toluene and xylene and carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, which can off-gas into the air for years. An older carpet contains dust and dirt that has accumulated over the years, which can contribute to the development of asthma. Pesticides tracked indoors from shoes also accumulate in carpets over time. In addition to carpets, there are many other flooring options that are now used in mainstream design. Cork flooring is beautiful, soft and environmentally friendly. Bamboo is another beautiful eco-friendly option. Just make sure the manufacturer and installer don’t use formaldehyde-based adhesives. Natural fiber rugs are another option that can be laid over cork, bamboo or tile floors to create space or give your baby a soft place to land while learning to walk. Some people just love the look and warmth of wall-to-wall carpeting, and have a low-VOC rug made from recycled plastic that’s even more durable and stain-resistant than traditional rugs.
Indoor air pollution
Toxins from the above sources and more fill the air in our homes. We hear reports of smog and air pollution, but according to the EPA, indoor air pollution can be 3-5 times worse than the air we breathe outside. Airborne chemicals build up and cannot escape, especially in newer homes that are designed to be airtight and more energy efficient. When the weather cooperates, we can open the windows to ventilate the house, but when it’s cold or when the air conditioner is running, there is little air exchange between indoors and outdoors. For families with small children, leaving the windows open can be a safety hazard. So what can we do? One of the least expensive things we can do is to bring home some plants that can remove chemicals from the air, acting as a purifier. Not all plants are the same in this respect. NASA has tested and ranked twelve plant species to determine the best removal of trichlorethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. Here’s what they found:
- Gerbera daisy, Dracaena Marginata, Peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ and bamboo palm were the five most effective plants in removing trichlorethylene.
- Gerbera Daisy, Pot Mum, Peace Lily, Bamboo Palm, Dracaena Warneckei, English Ivy and Mother-in-law’s Tongue are the best houseplants for removing benzene.
- Bamboo palm, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, mother-in-law’s tongue, Dracaena Marginata, peace lily, green spider plant and golden pothos are the main plants for removing formaldehyde.
Just remember to give your Gerbera Daisy plenty of sun! Based on this study, an 1,800 square foot home would need 15-20 plants to purify the air. I love plants and my house is full of them. I think they create a warm and inviting atmosphere, but not everyone wants to feel like they’re in the jungle. In addition, some people have allergies that prevent them from filling their home with plants. For these people, and as an extra layer of protection, consider an air purifier, especially if renovations were done to prepare your baby’s nursery.
There are several different types of air purifiers available. HEPA or HEGA filtration will be best and will also remove gases from the air. Beware of air purifiers that contain ionizers, as they can release ozone into the air, which is harmful to lung tissue, especially for those with asthma. Purifiers come in a wide range of prices, but also consider how much electricity and replacement filters will cost. Consider how noisy the device is during operation. If you can’t leave it running, the air purifier won’t serve its purpose.
Although it is impossible to point the finger at one specific chemical, cancer and asthma have increased in recent decades, learning disabilities have increased by 191% between 1977 and 1994, and autism rates have increased by 556% in the past decade. throughout the country.(4) and the preterm birth rate has increased by 29% since 1981.(5). One thing we do know is that our children as a nation are getting sicker.
Children learn values through the actions of their parents. By making healthy decisions for your baby, you are teaching them to make healthy decisions later in life. As parents, we only want the best for our children. Why risk your baby’s health by buying products that contain harmful chemicals when healthy alternatives are available?
- 1. Science news. October 25, 2003, Vol.164, Page 266
- 2. http://www.epa.gov/pcb/effects.html
- 3. Cancer. 1 December 2000, vol.89, p.11. 2315-21.
- 4. US Department of Education, 2002
- 5. http://www.iceh.org/pdfs/LDDI/2004NIMHeeting
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