Children are even more vulnerable than adults to toxics. Their bodies are rapidly growing, and chemicals can cause harm at critical points in their development. Children also tend to play on rugs and lawns, where toxics settle and collect. And young children—especially babies—are more likely to mouth plastic toys softened with phthalates, a group of endocrine disrupting compounds that have been associated with cancer, impaired fertility, and male birth defects.
- Choose toys and baby items that have no polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This vinyl, often identified with the recycling symbol 3 or V, requires the addition of plasticizers such as phthalates and stabilizers such as lead and cadmium. These additives tend not to bind to the polymer, allowing them to leach out during normal use. Untreated and unpainted wooden toys and untreated cloth toys offer safer alternatives.
- Select your children’s personal care products—from shampoos to toothpaste—wisely. For more details, read the Parent’s Buying Guide: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products, part of the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database.
- Keep toxic chemicals locked away from children. And avoid buying products whose labels read “danger,” “caution,” “warning,” and “toxic."
- Educate your children about the dangers of chemicals. Instruct them not to touch chemicals, and teach them the importance of washing their hands before eating and after touching anything with chemicals.
- Launder your children’s clothing using natural products. Remove stains with white vinegar; use baking soda to make your own fabric softener.
- Use fragrance-free baby wipes and diapers. Fragrance often contains phthalates, endocrine disrupting compounds that have been associated with cancer, impaired fertility, and male birth defects.
- Discourage young girls from wearing makeup and nail polish. The old argument between daughters and parents of how young is too young to wear makeup takes on new poignancy when you consider the toxics and endocrine disrupting compounds found in many personal care products—and adolescent girls’ special vulnerability to estrogenic effects. Teach your daughter about safer alternatives.
- Do not dress your children in flame-retardant sleepwear. Many flame retardants have been shown to affect hormone systems and thyroid hormones, to cause reproductive harm, and to affect learning and behavior in animal studies. Instead, choose snug-fitting sleepwear made from cotton.
- Don’t trust the “nontoxic” labels of a number of polymer clays that are popular with children. To learn more about the dangers of such modeling clays, especially when they are baked, read Healthy Child Healthy World’s report on polymer clays.
- Eliminate head lice by using a special fine-toothed comb, rather than lindane, a pesticide used in lice shampoos. Lindane, which may be an endocrine disruptor, has been found to cause seizures in children and even cancer. Despite the availability of alternative methods for treating lice and removing scabies, and despite bans by the European Union and the State of California, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still considers lindane acceptable when used according to the labeled instructions. As a further precaution, help avoid the incidence of lice by educating your children about the folly of sharing hats, brushes, and combs with other children. For more information, read The Green Guide’s article on nitpicking.
- Don’t paint the nursery if you’re pregnant. Paints can contain a number of chemicals—such as carbon tetrachloride—that have been shown to be mammary carcinogens in animal studies. If you want the nursery to be freshly painted, ask a friend or your partner to paint it in your absence—and stay away from it for a while. And ensure that any paints, stains, and sealants you use contain no volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can be carcinogenic.
- Learn about other ways to protect your unborn child. Read The Green Guide’s “10 Steps To Reduce Risks If You're Pregnant.”
- Allow new furniture and floor coverings in the nursery time to “off-gas” well before the baby arrives. Better yet, select furnishings made from natural fibers, such as wool, cotton, and hemp, which are naturally flame retardant. Also avoid products that use polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs—commercially produced flame retardants that are endocrine disruptors. Steer clear of furnishings and fabrics that have been treated for stain resistance. And avoid furniture made from pressed wood or particleboard, which can release formaldehyde.
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