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Why Non-Toxic Products Are So Important For Growth and Development

Written by: Megan Whitaker, Holistic Living Consultant and Environmental Health Expert

Kids need their own space. They also need a lot of stuff. No matter how minimalistic a parent may be, their children are going to require a sizeable list of non-negotiable purchases such as car seats and crib mattresses. But all that gear could be dangerous. In fact, it could be toxic. This guide will show you how to avoid chemical-filled products for kids of all ages. And it will explain why non-toxic children’s products are so important.

Everyday Chemicals

Here are a few quick tips for eliminating toxins from the air in your home:

  • Look for chairs, couches and rugs that have not been treated with flame retardants. Wool is naturally flame retardant and is a 100% toxin-free, safe solution all around. 
  • Add plants such as succulents and snake plants to your living space, as these can clean many of the VOCs and toxins from the air while increasing the oxygen available.
  • If your home has older carpeting that cannot be removed, you can still seal it with non-toxic and VOC-free sealer. This helps prevent the outgassing of harmful chemicals used in carpet backing, such as as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, xylene and styrene. This is an effective and very economical way of making existing carpet safer for kids.
  • Upgrade the air filters in your home at your air exchange and consider investing in a free-standing air filter. Your filter’s Micro-Particle Performance Rating (MPR) should be between 1,500 and 1,900. For air filtration units, look for true HEPA filters and avoid ionizing air filters that produce ozone.

Before a child is even born, they begin absorbing chemicals from the world around them. In a 2004 study, 10 random umbilical cord blood samples from American newborns were tested by the Environmental Working Group, and more than 200 man-made chemicals were found in each newborn (Scientific American).  The research from this study indicates that infants are absorbing hundreds of chemicals while they still in the womb. Unfortunately, that is not too surprising, seeing how there are currently more than 80,000 industrial chemicals registered for use today in America. More than 60,000 of those chemicals were notably never evaluated for safety because they were introduced before 1972 and were grandfathered in — that is, just assumed to be safe since they were currently in use.  Only a small percent of the remaining chemicals have been tested for human safety on anyone, let alone on growing children. The chemicals in everything from furniture, toys, cleaners, beauty products and even clothing have likely not been tested.

Currently, manufactures are required to let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) know before they begin making and selling a new chemical. But once that happens, it is up to the EPA to move forward with any testing, which is often time consuming and expensive. That is a major problem since the EPA must move to block or review any new compound or chemicals within 90 days of notification. If they do not do so within those 3 months, the chemical will automatically be passed, and manufactures may proceed.  The manufactures themselves are not responsible for testing or providing data on the safety of their chemicals unless it the EPA believes it poses some danger after it is already in use (NY Times). 

Kids Are at an Even Greater Risk

During development in utero, toxins and everyday chemicals can cause a host of immediate health effects and problems. Damage to a cell or to the DNA itself (when cells are rapidly replicating and differentiating into tissue and organs) can lead to serious issues and, sometimes, miscarriage. Fully grown adult have cell division, but not growth and change like infants and children. Damage to the body in childhood can lead to lifelong alterations in DNA and epigenetic changes that cause illness later in life. Many chemicals, such as BPA, are estrogenic-mimickers; the body reacts to them as if they were the hormone estrogen. High levels of estrogen or estrogen-mimicking chemicals in childhood is linked to numerous health issues including increased rates of breast cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer. For many years BPA was used in many baby products, including baby bottles.

Children and infants also more susceptible to everyday environmental chemicals because of their unique anatomy. They breath faster than adults, therefore taking in more air and pollutants.  They also eat and drink more in relation to their body weight than adults. The same chemical exposure can have significantly different effects on a 200 pound man versus a 20 pound toddler. 

Children are also, simply, just closer to the ground. Carpets and other types of flooring are often major sources of chemicals and pollutants. Chemical off-gassing from carpets is often one the most significant sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from carpet fiber and adhesives as well as VOCs from other areas that have fallen and settled to the floor.

The Very First Thing That Happens After Birth is a Baby’s First Breath

Indoor air pollution is a serious issue, but a fairly easy one to fix. The EPA conducted a study in 1985 showing indoor air quality was 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, regardless of where the homes were located. That was 30+ years ago (and the most recent one available through the EPA). As stated previously, carpets are a major source of toxic air pollution, or VOC’s. But all standard furniture, especially soft furnishing like couches, chairs and pillows, are often producers of VOCs.

At first glance, flame-retardants seem essential for new parents since they are designed to help slow or prevent the start/growth of fire. However, many studies have shown that these chemicals are actually linked to a number of health conditions, including but not limited to: cancer, reduced IQ, and hyperactivity (NRDC). California has now outlawed many of these chemicals on couches and children’s clothing due to these dangers.

Easy Air Fixes

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping the air in your home fresh and clean:

  • Look for chairs, couches and rugs that have not been treated with flame retardants. Wool is naturally flame retardant and is a safe solution all around.              
  • Adding plants, such as succulents and snake plants, can clean many of the VOCs and toxins from your air while increasing the oxygen.
  • Old carpeting that cannot be removed can be sealed. It is an effective and very economical way of making existing carpet safer for kids.
  • Upgrade your air filters at your air exchange and consider a free-standing air filter. Your whole house air filter should have MPRs (Micro-Particle Performance Ratings) of 1500-1900. For air filtration units, look for true HEPA filters and avoid ionizing air filters that can produce ozone.

Getting Safe and Healthy Sleep

VOCs, chemicals and toxins do not take a break just because you’re in bed. In fact, mattresses are often made from petrochemicals and emit VOCs and chemicals vapor. They are also often treated with flame retardants. Infants sleep up to 18 hours a day with their noses just an inch from these mattresses. While preschoolers and young children spend half of their day in bed.   Several companies make organic and non-toxic mattresses for cribs, tots and adults alike. Look for organic wool or organic cotton mattresses with the following certifications:  

Avoiding Plastic

Plastic is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy and seems to be in every baby and kid product. Plastic is a petrochemical that is mixed with a variety of other chemicals to soften, strengthen, color and even scent the finish product. Multiple hormone disruptors, like BPA, are widely used to make plastic more pliable. PVC is another extremely common chemical in plastic products. PVC can release dioxins and highly-toxic phthalates into the air and has been linked to numerous health issues including birth defect, early onset puberty and liver cancer.  Plastic bottles, cups, utensils, toys and furniture dominate the market, but there are non-plastic options for everything from bottles and pacifiers to blocks and dolls.

Feeding Without Plastic
Pure silicone bowls and plates are a great option for little ones. Older kids might can take lunch to school with stainless steel bento boxes or tempered glass containers. Several companies make glass baby bottles. For nursing moms, you can avoid plastic with silicon hand pumps and glass storage jars. You can find non-toxic breastfeeding gear at Going Crunchy Not Crazy.

Playing Without Plastic
Remember that everything a kid needs that is made with plastic was once made with something else. Toy blocks, trucks, stackers, play kitchens, and even ride on cars are all available in wood. Many brands such as Manhattan Toy Company and Melisa and Doug offer a huge range of wooden toys, game and puzzles for all ages.

Infants
Pacifiers and teething toys are permeant fixers in the mouths of most babies. But there are plastic-free options here too. True rubber pacifiers like EcoPacifer and silicon pacifiers are great options. Wood teethers are fantastic because they are naturally slightly antibacterial. Raw wood is difficult for bacteria to continue to live on because wood pulls in moisture.

Watch Your Tech

Baby monitors have come a long way in the last few decades. What once was a one-way walkie-talkie is now a digital, wireless security system with built-in temperature gauge and the ability to pan across the room. But many of these monitors register quite high in electro-magnetic radiation and many use WIFI signals. There is not a lot of research on the effects of EMFs and WIFI on infants, and because wireless internet is only a few decades old there are no long-term studies. There are multiple studies that do show a direct effect, however, including one linking WIFI exposure of just one hour with reduced sperm motility. 

For parents and caregivers who care concerned or wish to be cautious, there are just a handful of options. The Gentle Nursery has a guide to low-EMF monitors

Screens and handheld devices have the same concerns. They are relatively new in the world and long-term effects are somewhat unknown, especially when they have been used since childhood. There have been some studies that show an increase in brain tumors linked to cell phone exposure, which is especially concerning with children because their skull is significantly thinner than an adult. Even for an adult, the recommendation is that a smart phone should not be pressed against the body. The instructions for an Apple iPhone state that the phone should always be kept about half an inch away from the body.

There are several companies that make shields for smart phones and hand-held devices such as Defender Shield

Children’s bodies are rapidly growing and changing. Surrounding them with the safest products and the cleanest environment possible is so important. Keeping a body health is much easier that healing a sick one. If you want help to find products, want recommendations, or need assistance cleaning up your home and environment, you can get more information on www.goingcrunchynotcrazy.com.