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Blog/Opinion: Give kids a green and healthy start

Babies' and children's developing brains and bodies (especially their reproductive systems) are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. And children's bodies may not metabolize and excrete toxic chemicals as readily as adults. So it's important for our children's long-term health that we focus on the toxic chemicals they're exposed to, and do our best to keep them away when it matters most.


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Read on to learn three important ways to raise eco-healthy kids:

  1. Reduce Mom’s chemical exposures while pregnant
  2. Feed your baby safely
  3. Create an eco-healthy home
  4. Clean greener at home

1. Reduce Mom's chemical exposures while pregnant

Pregnancy is a critical time. A mother's chemical exposures can adversely affect her baby in many ways. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that are critical—stopping smoking, cutting out alcoholic beverages, and eating right. Beyond that, here are some simple, but important steps, you can take to further reduce risks during pregnancy—and beyond.

  • Go organic and eat fresh foods. Use EWG's Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides to determine which fruits and veggies you should always buy organic and those with the least pesticide residue that are ok to buy conventionally grown. Choose milk and meat produced without added growth hormones. Limit canned food, since can linings usually contain the synthetic estrogen called bisphenol A (BPA).
  • Drink safer water. It's important for pregnant women to drink plenty of water. Use a reverse osmosis system or carbon filter pitcher to reduce your exposure to impurities such as chlorine, perchlorate and lead. Don't drink bottled water, which costs more and isn't necessarily better. If you're out and about, use a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic reusable container. Mix infant formula with fluoride-free water.
  • Eat low-mercury seafood. Choose low-mercury fish such as salmon, tilapia and pollock, rather than high-mercury tuna and swordfish.
  • Get your iodine. Switch to iodized salt and talk to your doctor about taking an iodine-containing vitamin. Iodine buffers against chemicals such as perchlorate that can disrupt your thyroid system and pose potential risks for your baby's brain development during pregnancy.
  • Choose better body care products. Just because the label says "gentle" or "natural" doesn't mean a product is safe for pregnancy. Look your products up on EWG's Read the ingredients and avoid triclosan, fragrance and oxybenzone.
  • Wash maternity clothes before wearing. Clothing is often coated with chemical treatments in the factory.
  • Identify lead sources and avoid them. Test your tap water for lead and avoid any home remodeling if your house was built before 1978, when lead house paint was banned. Dust from sanding old paint is a common source of lead exposure.
  • Avoid painting and other chemical-intensive jobs when you are getting your nursery ready.
  • Clean greener. Household cleaners, bug killers, pet treatments and air fresheners can contain hazardous chemicals. Check out less toxic alternatives. Some ideas: vinegar in place of bleach, baking soda to scrub your tiles, hydrogen peroxide to remove stains. Use a wet mop/rag and a HEPA-filter vacuum to get rid of dust—which can contain contaminants. Leave shoes—and the pollutants they track inside—at the door.
  • Avoid gasoline fumes. Ask for your partner's help to fill the gas tank, or use full service.
  • Pick plastics carefully. Some plastics contain toxic chemicals, including BPA and phthalates. Don't reuse single-use containers or microwave food in plastic containers. Avoid PVC by hanging a natural-fabric shower curtain. When remodeling, go with PVC-free flooring and pipes. Learn more about choosing safer plastics.

2. Feed your baby safely

Breast milk is best, but whether you're feeding breast milk or formula in a bottle, use this guide to feed your baby safely.

  •  Use a safe bottle.
    • Start with a clear silicone nipple. Latex rubber nipples can cause allergic reactions and can contain impurities linked to cancer.
    • Use glass. Plastic bottles can leach a toxic chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) into formula and breast milk. Avoid clear, hard plastic bottles marked with a 7 or "PC."
    • Don't use plastic bottle liners. The soft plastic liners may leach chemicals into formula and breast milk, especially when heated.
    • Warm bottles in a pan of hot water. Microwaving can heat unevenly and cause chemicals to leach from plastic bottles into formula.
  • Make safe infant formula.
    • Choose powdered formula. A toxic chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) can leach into liquid formula sold in metal cans. Canadian tests show no BPA leaching into powdered formula. The same brands are sold in the U.S., making powdered formula a low-risk for BPA contamination. Choose powdered formula when possible, or liquid formula in glass or plastic containers. Avoid all liquid formula in metal cans.
    • Use filtered tap water. If your water is fluoridated, use a reverse osmosis filter to remove fluoride, which the American Dental Association recommends avoiding when reconstituting formula. If your water is not fluoridated use a carbon filter. If you choose bottled water, make sure it's fluoride-free.
    • Learn more. Watch this short EWG video about feeding babies safely and read this Enviroblog post to learn more about choosing and using infant formula.

3. Create an eco-healthy home

We created a short Healthy Home Checklist for you to use as you walk through your home -- and open your bathroom cabinet, look under your sink, and check those laundry supplies. It's an easy, hands-on way to create a less toxic environment for your family. When you're done, you'll breathe easier (literally!) knowing that you've tackled the toxics that matter most in your home.


4. Clean greener at home

Cleaning might be a chore, but it doesn't have to be toxic, too! Safer products and practices are available and easy. Children accidentally exposed to harsh, corrosive cleaners can suffer burns to skin and eyes, and inhaling the fumes can cause lung damage. Exposure to low levels of these chemicals over a lifetime may increase the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as cancer or reproductive problems.

  • Less is more. Dilute your cleaning supplies according to instructions and use only what's needed to get the job done.
  • Open the window. Clean with windows and doors open so you don't trap air pollution inside your home.
  • Use gloves and other precautions. Cleaning chemicals may harm or penetrate skin and eyes—check warning labels.
  • Keep kids away. Children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. If they like to help, let them clean with soap and water, not toxic cleaners.
  • Avoid "antibacterial." If your family is generally healthy, there's no need to use potentially toxic "antibacterial" products, according to the American Medical Association. Wash your hands with plain soap and water.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar, or other acids. These combinations can produce deadly gases.
  • Don't be fooled by labels—buy certified green products. Label claims aren't always true. Cleaning supplies certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo meet green standards.
  • Try natural alternatives. Experiment with non-toxic options like vinegar and baking soda.
  • Take care with pine and citrus oil cleaners. Avoid using these cleaners especially on smoggy days, when the ingredients can react with ozone to produce cancer-causing formaldehyde.
  • Skip the biggest hazards. Avoid air fresheners, use a baking soda and water paste to clean the oven and tackle toilet stains, and use a mechanical snake to unclog the drain.


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(Note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)

Give kids a green and healthy start:  Created on June 21st, 2010.  Last Modified on December 27th, 2010

About Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.


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