2 Vs 3 Tissue Layers In Development Of Animals Are There Hidden Health Hazards In Your Baby’s Nursery?

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Are There Hidden Health Hazards In Your Baby’s Nursery?

Will you be exposing your newborn to formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and pesticides? Of course not! Even if they tell you, it shouldn’t affect your child’s health, you wouldn’t want to take that chance. However, one of the first things we do as expectant parents is to provide a nursery for our child. We paint, buy a crib, mattress, and bedding and maybe even install new carpet in the room where our child will spend most of their first year.

Did you know that these products contain formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, pesticide residues and other chemicals that can affect your child’s health and development?

It’s bad enough that we expose ourselves to these chemicals but it’s even worse for our children. Children are more susceptible to the effects of poisoning than adults for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that babies are very small and therefore have a low tolerance to toxins. Children are also growing very fast and any chemical that inhibits the growth and development process will have a greater impact on them as compared to adults. Children also take in more air than adults relative to their body size which means they breathe in more toxins than adults. Finally, many toxic gases found in soil are heavier than air and settle near the ground where children play.

There are many steps we can take as parents to make our home a more natural, safe place to raise healthy children. Listed below are the sources of many common household toxins and what you can do to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure for your child and yourself.

Fire Retardants

Fire retardants are one of the first toxins your child will encounter in the home. Although it may seem like you don’t get any sleep with a baby in the house, babies do a lot of sleeping – about 60% of their first year! That’s a lot of time to spend in close proximity with a mattress treated with flame retardants called PBDEs. Many animal studies have found that PBDEs build up in the body over time and exposure during critical developmental periods can cause reproductive damage and anxiety.(1). PBDEs are chemically similar to PCBs which were banned in 1976 after they were found to cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems in animals.(2). PBDEs are already banned in Europe but unfortunately they are still widely used in the US. An organic crib mattress is essential for a healthy nursery. Consider buying a mattress made with organic cotton or latex and wool. Combing the hair not only acts to regulate temperature, but is also a natural fire retardant. An organic cotton and wool bedding mattress will meet the same government standards for flammability as a chemically treated mattress but is a much more natural option and avoids any of the potential dangers of PBDEs.


Most bedding is made with cotton, the second most heavily pesticide treated crop in the world. Of the top nine pesticides used in cotton farming, five have been shown to cause cancer and are rated among the most dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even more chemicals are added during the process to turn the raw cotton into cloth. Because your baby will spend a lot of time sleeping, it makes sense that their bedding is free from any pesticide residue or chemical contaminants. When shopping for bedding, opt for those made with organic cotton, grown without the use of pesticides. Children also love to put their toys in their mouths so consider buying stuffed animals made from organic cotton, especially when the children are coming.

Another source of pesticide exposure is to treat our homes and yards. Research shows that children exposed to the highest levels of pesticides have seven times the risk of developing childhood Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma(3). As an alternative to using pesticides, consider using cornmeal in the yard to encourage seeds from germinating (available at many garden stores and online). There are many good books written on the subject of natural gardening that provide natural solutions to all kinds of lawn and garden problems. My personal favorites are books by Jerry Baker that have literally thousands of tips and tricks. In the home, pesticides made from orange peel are safe, natural and very effective at killing many common pests.


Most paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOC) that off-gas into the air long after the paint has dried. The smell of wet paint is actually due to the VOCs in the paint escaping into the air. Healthier paint choices would be natural paint, zero VOC paint or a low VOC paint. Natural fillers are the healthiest option. They make natural plant-based compounds and are odorless. Zero VOC paints are also a safe choice, very easy to work with, have little or no odor and are widely available and affordable. By law, paint with 5 grams per liter of VOC or less can be called zero VOC paint. Tinting paints can add a small amount of VOC but usually do not exceed 10 grams per liter of VOC which is still very low. To reduce the amount of VOCs added by the tint, choose a pastel or light color for your baby’s nursery. These colors are also very soothing and will help you relax and fall asleep faster. The VOC content for low VOC paint varies and is usually written on the label. These paints will always have a smell at least until they dry. Regardless of the color you are using, if you are pregnant, it is best to have someone else do the painting if possible or at least choose a safe color and make sure there is adequate ventilation.

Lead is another consideration when discussing paint toxins. If your home was built before 1978, it may have been painted with lead-based paint. Because lead can cause developmental problems in children, any chipped skin can be a health hazard. Pregnant women should also be careful to avoid areas where anything that may contain lead-based paint is being sanded or repaired.

Household Cleaners and Baby Bath Products

Most household cleaners are toxic chemicals. Consider using cleansers made from plant and herb-based ingredients and essential oils for fragrance. Instead of using a synthetic cleaner on a tile or linoleum floor where a child will crawl and play, use a liquid cleaner that will disinfect without the use of chemicals.

While there are many bath soaps and shampoos on the market that are made specifically for baby, often these are simple versions of an adult formula. Read the labels and ask yourself if you would want those elements (yes… even the ones you can’t say) in your child’s body. The skin acts as a barrier to some chemicals however many are absorbed through the skin, a process aided by the warmth and moisture during bathing. Natural soaps, lotions and oils are always the best option for your baby.


Traditional carpeting and the adhesives sometimes used in its installation can be a toxic nightmare. Carpeting has too many VOCs to name them all but includes neurotoxins like toluene and xylene and carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde which can off-gas into the air for years. Older carpets have years of accumulated dust and dirt that can contribute to the development of asthma. Pesticides tracked into the home from shoes also build up in the carpeting over time. There are many other flooring options other than carpeting that come to mainstream design. Cork soil is beautiful, soft and environmentally friendly. Bamboo is another beautiful eco-friendly option. Just make sure the manufacturer and installer don’t use any glue that contains formaldehyde. Natural fiber area rugs are another option that can be placed on cork, bamboo or tile floors to define a space or to give your child a soft place to land while learning to walk. Some people just love the look and feel of wall to wall carpeting and for those there is low VOC carpeting made from recycled plastic which is more sustainable than traditional carpeting.

Indoor Air Pollution

Toxins from the above sources and more fill the air in our homes. We hear the news about smog and air pollution but according to the EPA, indoor air pollution can be 3-5 times worse than the air we breathe outside. Chemicals released into the air build up and cannot escape especially in new buildings which are built to be airtight and more energy efficient. When the weather cooperates we can open the windows to get out of the house but when it is cold or when the air is running, there is little air exchange between inside and outside. In families with small children, leaving windows open can be a safety hazard. So what can we do? One of the least expensive things we can do is to bring some plants into the house that are able to remove chemicals from the air, working as a purifier. Not all seeds are created equal in this way. NASA has tested and ranked twelve plant species to determine the best at removing trichlorethylene, benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Here’s what they found:

  • Gerbera daisy, Dracaena Marginata, Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ and bamboo palm are the five most effective plants in eliminating trichlorethylene.
  • Gerbera Daisy, Mother Pot, Peace Lily, Bamboo Palm, Dracaena Warneckei, English ivy and Mother-in-law’s tongue are the best house plants for benzene removal.
  • Bamboo palm, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, mother-in-law’s tongue, Dracaena Marginata, Peace Lily, green spider plant, and golden pothos are top plants for removing formaldehyde.

Just remember to give your Gerbera daisy plenty of sun! Based on this study, an 1800 square foot house would need between 15-20 plants to purify the air. I love plants and my house is full of them. I think they create a warm and inviting atmosphere but not everyone wants to feel like they are living in a jungle. In addition, some people have allergies which prevent them from filling their house with seeds. For those people and as an additional measure of safety, consider the air purifier, especially if you make any repairs to set up your child’s nursery.

There are many different types of air purifiers available. The best will have HEPA or HEGA filtration and will also remove airborne gases. Beware of air purifiers that have ionizers as they can release ozone into the air that is harmful to the lung tissue, especially for those with asthma. Filters come in a variety of prices but also consider how much it will cost to operate in terms of electricity and replacement filters. See how loud a unit is while running. If you can’t leave it running, the air conditioner won’t do it for you.

Scary statistics

While it is impossible to point a finger at a specific chemical, in the past few years, cancer rates and asthma rates have increased, learning disabilities have increased 191% between 1977 and 1994, autism rates has gone up 556% in the past decade nationwide.(4) and the number of premature births is up 29% since 1981(5). One thing we know is that as a nation, our children are getting sick.

Children learn values ​​through the actions of their parents. By making healthy decisions for your child now, you are teaching them to make healthy decisions for themselves later in life. As parents, we only want the best for our children. Why take advantage of your child’s health by buying products that contain harmful chemicals when there are healthy alternatives?

  • 1. Journalism. October 25, 2003, vol 164, p.266
  • 2. http://www.epa.gov/pcb/effects.html
  • 3. Cancer. December 1, 2000, vol 89 (11) p. 2315-21.
  • 4. US Department of Education, 2002
  • 5. http://www.iceh.org/pdfs/LDDI/2004NIMHeeting

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