PROTECT Yourself: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Children’s Toys and Products

1. 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.

2. Select your children’s personal care products — from shampoos to toothpaste — wisely. Don’t use baby powder. Talc, also known as talcum powder, baby powder, soapstone, French chalk, or magnesium silicate, can pose a threat to kid’s health. Talc can naturally occur and be contaminated with asbestos fibers, a known human carcinogen. For more details, read the New Parents’ Guide to Safer Children’s Products.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 harmful chemicals and endocrine disrupting compounds found in many personal care products — and adolescent girls’ special vulnerability to estrogenic effects. Teach your daughter about safer alternatives.

6. 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 Hidden Hazards: Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays.

7. 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 danger of sharing hats, brushes, and combs with other children.

8. 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.

9. 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. Over 80% of tested baby products — including nursing pillows, nap mats, and sleep positioners — contained flame retardants at levels up to 12 percent of the weight of the foam. Flame retardant chemicals were added to the foam in baby products such as carriers, strollers, and changing pads beginning in 1975 to meet a California furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117). Flame retardants have also been found in juvenile products such as sleep mats and crib mattresses that are not regulated by TB117. In 2013, TB117 was replaced by a new standard, TB117-2013. In addition to improving the compliance test for furniture, TB117-2013 exempts most additional juvenile products that contain foam. Look for the label TB117-2013 when buying baby products.

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Public domain image from Pixabay.