Simple Ideas for a Less-Toxic Home
Sure, you can comb your playroom for lead-laden toys and read simple ways to reduce your family's carbon footprint. But how can you protect your young children on a daily basis? Here are easy ways to make your family's home less toxic.
Perils of Plastics
What’s the problem with plastics? In a word: Phthalates. These chemicals are used in toys and bottles to make plastics flexible. A February 2008 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found elevated levels of these chemicals in infant urine.
Although there is no conclusive evidence that phthalates are harmful to people (phthalates are monitored, but
not regulated, by the FDA), there may be cause for concern. Evidence obtained from animal studies shows that phthalates may be associated with premature puberty development in girls and eventual fertility problems in boys.
The bottom line? We don’t yet know how harmful these chemicals are to our kids, but many parents would rather be safe than sorry.
Choose Safer Plastics
What you can do to reduce your baby’s phthalate exposure:
Toys: Of course, you can try to limit your child to playing with cloth and wooden toys and drinking out of glass bottles, but that’s not always practical. Check out this guide to eco-safe toys, from the nonprofit group Healthy Child Healthy World.
Bottles: According to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) you can minimize risk by avoiding polycarbonate bottles, which can be identified by their rigidity and typically have the number seven (#7) imprinted on them. Instead, purchase tempered glass or polyethylene bottles (that bear the symbols: #1, #2, and #5). Both Medela and Evenflo manufacture safer plastic bottles. When using plastic containers, always check for scratches which can collect harmful bacteria. Also, never heat breastmilk or formula in plastic containers; this causes the dangerous chemicals to bleed into your baby’s lunch.
Liability of Lotions and Powders
What’s the problem with lotions? Those no-good phthalates strike again. Phthalates are used in fragranced beauty products (including cosmetics) and are often found in baby shampoos, lotions, wipes, and powders. In fact, the highest levels of chemicals were found in the urine of infants who had used one or more of these products, and researchers conluded that infants are more vulnerable to the absorption of these chemicals than older children and adults. Although the chemicals are excreted (through urine) within a day, daily exposure is a continued problem.
Although the FDA requires that manufacturers label products with a list of ingredients, regulations do not require all ingredients within a product fragrance to be listed; this is troublesome because phthalates can typically be found in a fragrance.
Lay off Lotions and Powders
What you can do: Fortunately, your kids are already beautiful; they don’t need extra primping. A lot of lotions, creams, and powders are not neccesary to maintain that darling infant glow. Babies have very sensitive skin and slathering them with synthetic products—aside from being excessive—may be irritating, if not harmful.
Of course, baby still needs the occasional bath, and shampoo is a staple. Look for products marked phthalate-free, like Tom’s of Maine Baby Shampoo and Body Wash. Try unscented products, but unless specifically marked, don’t assume those are without phthalates!
Calamitous Household Cleaners
What’s the problem with cleaners? So, you like to keep a clean a house—what’s wrong with that? Unfortunately, corrisive cleaners, such as bleaches, lyes, and acids may be causing harm to your kids. Even if you store these products in containers and keep them out of reach, simply using them could be damaging because, according to CHEC, they release toxic elements into the air. Aside from the damage they do to the environment, toxic cleaning supplies and products have been linked to fertility problems, asthmas, and cancer.
Another red flag is any product that contains phosphates, which irritate eyes and lungs and pollute the earth. Although they have been removed from most laundry detergents, phosphates can still be found hanging out in dish detergents and household cleaners.
Be a Greener Cleaner
But aside from using safer products, you can also take these precautions to reduce the level of exposure to your family. Always make sure to properly ventilate the area that you are cleaning; keep kids away while you’re cleaning; and store cleaning supplies in airtight containers and keep them away from your children.
Try these five steps to make your home safer for your family.
What’s wrong with the nursery? The safe little haven where your baby resides may not be as safe as you think. Mattresses house allergens and dust mites that can be inhaled while sleeping. Temporary, “kid-friendly” furniture is often made of vinyls and soft plastics that contain harmful phthalates and PVCs. Arts and crafts supplies can contain solvents that are dangerous to Baby’s brain. Carpeting and paint may contain VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, which are chemicals that easily evaporate) and can cause mild to serious health problems. Curtains absorb dust and pollutants which your child may breathe in. But don’t panic! See how you can make your child’s nursery a safer space on the next slide.
What you can do: There are a number of steps you can take to reduce toxins in your child’s room:
Mattresses can be covered with barrier cloths to protect your baby.
Instead of plastic furniture, try child-proportioned pieces that are made of wood.
Use nontoxic, water-based arts and crafts tools.
Use non-VOC paints, or if your room is already painted use a home testing device to screen for VOCs.
Wash curtains regularly to keep them clean and dust-free.
What’s the problem with food? Sure, you feed your family nutritious meals and snacks, but some of those foods may contain underlying dangers.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved many pesticides before extensive research had been completed, but today, it is thought that there may be a link between pesticides and certain cancers.
Refined sugars: We hate to sour that sweet tooth, but refined sugars—whether brown or white—can rob your body of nutrients and cause damage to your organs.
Tap water: Think twice about the water you use for cooking. Research shows that some pretty nasty stuff may be making it’s way into your culinary creations, which can affect your children’s reproductive health. Also, even pipes marked “lead-free” may be leaking small amounts of lead into your water.
More Foul Food
Milk: Most cows are forced by dairy farmers (and accompanying synthetic hormones) to produce milk well past their natural age. These hormones (which are linked to cancer in humans) cause a number of illnesses and infections in the cows, which are then treated with antibiotics. Do you really want your kids gulping down that entire patient-management-system?
Fish: Nearly all fish have traces of mercury, but young children (and pregnant or nursing moms) should never have shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because these have particularly high levels.
Meat and Chicken: Currently, the FDA allows six hormones to be used in animal raising. Some groups suspect that these hormones may be linked to premature puberty in girls (which in turn, is linked to breast cancer).
Before you embark on a vegan diet of twigs and leaves, check the next slide to find out how just a few small changes make a big difference.
What you can do: Don’t start eliminating foods from your children’s diets! Many of the foods previously llisted are very imporant to Baby’s growth and development, so what can you do? Actually, the solution is quite simple: Read labels and choose organic, when possibe. (You can even make your own organic baby food!)
Consider these shopping tips:
Organic produce is subject to strict regulations so the pesticide use is dramatically lower. (Read on to see which produce is best purchased organic.)
Refined sugars: Try natural sweeteners like raw honey and organic maple syrup. Take a look at which sugars are good for you.
Tap water: Use filtered water when you cook, or if this is not an option, use very cold tap water.
More Ways to Eat Organic
A Greener, Safer Home
Looking for more ways to detox your house?
1. Eco-Chic: Great Ideas for Green Living
4. 5 Steps to a Greener Nursery
5. Quiz: How Green is Your Family’s Home?
In 2003 the
FDA ruled that all “hormone-free” labels must be accurate, so take a moment to peruse the carton before you toss it in your cart.
Meat and Chicken: You can reduce hormone intake by switching to organic meats. Keep in mind that only foods labeled with the USDA organic seal certifies that the products is deemed at least 95 percent organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
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