A child’s exposure to chemicals is far greater than an adult’s. Their bodies are less able to excrete chemicals, and their organs are more susceptible to damage. Yet toxins surround us in our daily lives, including a multitude of baby products.
It’s easy to get freaked out when you discover the details of these toxins and how prevalent they are. Try to remain calm. It’s not possible to eradicate all the toxins from your child’s life. However, having an awareness of what’s out there and taking some simple steps to reduce your child’s exposure is a great start.
Here are five toxins you’d do best to limit and tips on how to do so.
- What is it? A group of chemicals typically used in plastics or as solvents. While some phthalates have been banned, a few common ones you might see on product labels include: BPA (Bisphenol A), DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate), and BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate). Widely known as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ the health effects of phthalates include damage to the liver and kidneys, birth defects, asthma and early puberty.
- Where is it found? In a myriad of children’s items including baby wipes, teethers, plastic toys, inflatables, soft lunch boxes, food and beverage containers, detergents, soaps and shampoos.
- What are my alternatives? Choose safer toys made from natural materials like wood, cloth or natural rubber. Look for BPA-free products for teethers and other baby plastics. Try to avoid children’s soft plastic toys made before 2009 in the US (or 2006 in Europe) as they likely contain higher levels of phthalates. (This might mean refusing certain hand-me-downs.) Choose skin products that are fragrance free by searching EWG’s Skin Deep Database. Make your own baby wipes (link). Buy glass or metal bottles, sippy cups and food storage containers. Avoid plastics labeled with codes #3 and #7. Visit The Soft Landing for shopping guides on phthalate, PVC, BPA-free children’s products.
- What is it? This colorless, flammable chemical is classified as a known human carcinogen (linked to leukemia and certain cancers) that may also trigger skin rashes in sensitive people. Once in your home, formaldehyde can emit toxic fumes for years.
- Where is it found? It’s primarily found in furniture (usually plywood and particle board, certain glues and adhesives) and also as a preservative in liquid soaps and shampoos. (Johnson & Johnson has just removed formaldehyde from their baby shampoo.)
- What are my alternatives? Purchase furniture made from natural woods or older, used furniture that will have already off-gassed. If you aren’t sure about a new item’s formaldehyde content, leave it outside your home or in a garage to off-gas for a week before bringing it inside. Be sure your home, especially your baby’s space, is well ventilated. Filter your air with indoor plants that naturally absorb formaldehyde toxins such as the peace lily, spider plant, Gerbera daisy, bamboo palm, pot mum and Chinese evergreen.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
- What is it? SLS and SLES are compounds found in many hygiene products and detergents. A known skin irritant, SLS may affect the immune system, eye development and, when combined with other chemicals, may act as a potent carcinogen.
- Where is it found? SLS and SLES are found frequently in shampoos, toothpaste, bubble bath, moisturizer, laundry detergent and other foaming beauty products.
- What are my alternatives? Read labels and seek out SLS-free personal care products. Search EWG’s Skin Deep database for product ingredients and toxicity ratings. Or make your own baby products with these simple DIY recipes from Easy Living Mom.
- What is it? Chemicals such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and “Tris” (TDCPP, TCPP and TCEP), a flame retardant banned from kid’s pajamas in the 1970s but still found in many baby products as recently as 2011. Toxic flame retardants accumulate in our bodies and have adverse effects including endocrine and thyroid disruption, reduced IQ, hyperactivity and impaired child development. “Tris” is connected with several types of cancer.
- Where is it found? Unfortunately, many baby products upholstered with polyurethane foam contain flame retardants including strollers, car seats, clothing, nursing pillows, changing tables, high chairs, carpets and baby carriers.
- What are my alternatives? Seek out products that aren’t treated with flame retardants, since you cannot be sure which chemicals were used. Many manufacturers are now developing baby products that do not use toxic flame retardants. HealthyStuff.org is a good resource that lists brands tested for safety and toxins. Since children often encounter PBDEs by ingesting dust while on the floor, you can reduce their exposure by opting for wood floors in your home and replacing older carpet padding or furniture (prior to 2004).
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- What is it? A known human carcinogen, PVC is known as the “poison plastic” (usually plastics labeled as #3). The manufacture and incineration of PVC releases dioxins into our atmosphere and soil—dioxins we end up inhaling and consuming later on. These chemicals pollute our natural resources and can lead to cancer, birth defects, diabetes, endometriosis and immune system problems.
- Where is it found? PVC is found in vinyl products such as flooring, siding, upholstery or shower curtains. It’s also common in pacifiers, toys, raincoats, shoes, building materials, artificial Christmas trees and food packaging.
- What are my alternatives? Look for children’s products labeled “PVC-free.” Store your food in glass containers or butcher paper instead of cling wrap. Choose a real Christmas tree. Use wood, linoleum, cork or ceramic flooring instead of vinyl. Get lots more tips from this helpful PVC-free guide from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
This 2014 Baby Non-Toxic Shopping Guide [PDF] from Women’s Voices for the Earth offers additional tips and resources for buying baby products, cosmetics, toys, clothing and more.
Get more great information about toxins from the Green Sisterhood during our Earth Month Blog Party! Check out the blogs below: