Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.
Q: How can I create a safe, eco-friendly environment at home for my baby? —Anya Sievers
A: Yours is a timely concern, in light of mounting evidence of health risks to young children from toxic substances in household products. Just this month, a study found that polyfluoroalkyl chemicals ( PFCs), the “Teflon/Scotchgard” chemicals used in rain-stain fabric treatments, nonstick pans, microwave popcorn bags, and other fast-food packaging, may weaken children’s immune systems.
Happily, safer and greener alternatives are readily available. Here’s a quick checklist of top eco baby proofing steps to take. (If you are pregnant, or planning to be, remember to protect yourself, too, since many toxic chemicals and heavy metals cross the umbilical cord.)
Be wary of lead
It's the number one threat to developing brains and nervous systems. Ask your city department of health or environmental protection if they provide free water testing. If not, find a nearby certified lab at epa.gov. When in doubt, use a carbon filter pitcher or on your tap; it will remove lead and most other pollutants, such as pesticides. Also, if you live in a home built before lead paints were banned in 1978, check that no old paint is flaking or producing dust that can be inhaled or ingested. If so, here’s what to do! And, finally, make sure any toys that come into your house are lead-free.
Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic
Polyvinyl chloride plastic can contain lead and offgas toxic phthalates, which have been linked to developmental harm in humans.
Synthetic fragrance in personal care or cleaning products can contain obesity-provoking phthalates and trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Here are my favorite fragrance-free green laundry detergents and dish soaps.
Get DIY with your cleaning products
Make your own solutions using green dish soap, baking soda, white vinegar, and other safe ingredients.
Pick healthier nursery furnishings
Find alternatives to synthetic wall-to-wall carpets, conventional pressed wood/particleboard cribs and furniture, and synthetic foam mattresses, all of which can release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Go for green baby clothing and diapers
Organic and recycled fibers are top eco-friendly choices for clothing as is buying pieces secondhand. Reusable cloth diapers, disposable diapers free of chlorine bleach and synthetic fragrance, and hybrid reusable diapers with flushable inserts are all greener diapering options; check them out at The Green Diaper Store.
A great one-stop-shop website for green baby products is Ecomom.
For daily and DIY tips from doctors related to environmental health and children, check out Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center.
Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.