Green child-proofing for toxic tots
(Mar 5, 2008)
By the time the average North American child enters kindergarten,
they’ve already been exposed to a veritable cocktail of chemicals. How
do we protect our children from common toxic chemicals? We can start by
greening our homes.
Canaries in the coal mine
exposures in utero and during childhood can permanently alter or damage
a child’s development and compromise their health as adults.
23,000 chemicals and substances are in commercial use in North America
and hundreds of new substances are generated every year. Yet, according
to the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment
(CPCHE), the majority of these chemicals have either not been tested or
not tested thoroughly for their potential effects on infants and
"We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment
in which our children, and our children’s children, are the
experimental subjects," Dr. Harvey Needleman, CPCHE.
Not just "little adults"
chemical guidelines have been set based on studies in adult
populations. But children are far more vulnerable to chemicals because
of their differences in metabolism and physiology. Faster respiratory
rates and immature lungs make crawling infants and toddlers more
vulnerable to VOCs from carpets and floors. Pre-teens are much more
vulnerable to various hormone-disrupting chemicals.
parent understands the importance of childproofing to protect our kids
from immediate harm. But children’s health advocates suggest the less
visible, potentially hazardous toxic chemicals in our homes be added to
the list for child proofing.
Start off with getting rid of three dangerous chemicals: formaldehyde, PBDEs and Phthalates.
volatile organic compound (VOC), formaldehyde is a major source of
indoor air pollution in the North American home. It’s a common
ingredient in adhesives and finishes, found in fiberboard,
particleboard, plywood (used in furniture and cabinetry), carpets and
carpet glues, paints, floor finishes, and certain textiles and
clothing. It off gases steadily over time and is highly toxic.
Immediate reactions include allergic skin reactions, eye, nose and
throat irritation and nausea. Long-term negative health effects include
respiratory problems, asthma-like symptoms.
PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)
class of flame retardants, PBDE is used extensively in home
electronics, textiles, carpets, upholstered furniture, and polyurethane
foam. As these products slowly degrade, they release polybrominated
dephenyl ethers (PBDEs) particles into the air which settle into
of PBDEs found in food, house dust, blood and breast milk have
dramatically increased worldwide, particularly in North America. Recent
studies indicate children have even higher concentrations than their
Once considered safe, research over the past decade has
many scientists and environmentalists concerned about the safety of
PBDE. Exposure has been linked to impaired brain development, decreased
I.Q., liver damage, negative effects on reproductive, hormonal,
developmental and immune systems, and possibly cancer.
Highly toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent, PBDEs are now considered by many to be "the PCBs of the 21st century".
in many plastics, particularly in PVC, phthalate is a chemical added to
make plastic flexible and durable. It’s prevalent in children’s toys,
baby bottles and teething rings. A recent American study found that
nearly half of the toys tested contained phthalates at high levels.
are also used as fragrance stabilizers in personal care products,
including products designed specifically for babies and toddlers, such
as lotions, shampoos,
powders, baby wipes and diaper creams.
can pose serious health risks to babies and pre- pubescent children
including hormone disruption, negative effects on the liver, kidneys,
blood, and reproductive and developmental systems. Tests conducted by
the American government have found phthalates present in almost all of
the population, with the highest concentrations found in women and in
children ages 6 to 1.1.
Another study published in the journal
Pediatrics found elevated levels of phthalates in the urine of babies
shortly after they’d been treated with products that contain the
chemical, with the highest levels found in babies younger than 8
Of particular concern are baby bottles.
Detox your home
rid of these three chemicals will improve the health and safety of your
home. Short of moving your child into a bubble (phthalate-free of
course), you can also use chemical free cleaning products in your home
and follow the 10 Easy tips to detox your home and your children.
Leavitt is an environmental writer based in Montreal. She would like to
dedicate this article to the memory of her mother, Barbara Leavitt, who
worked in the construction industry for almost two decades and
dedicated the last 15 years of her life promoting "greener" and