Every parent wants the best for their child. But in today’s age of convenience, it’s tempting to take the easiest or most economical route when purchasing products for tots. From disposable diapers to trendy toys, potential health dangers may lurk beyond the cute, cuddly and carefree. In addition to switching to greener cleaning solutions for surfaces our little one’s touch, here are a few items to watch out for.
Developed after World War II in response to a cotton shortage, disposable diapers have since spawned 1,000-plus patents filed in pursuit of the ultimate design. Popularity exploded in the 1980s following the introduction of super-absorbent polymer. While an estimated 90 percent of U.S. households still use disposable diapers, some caretakers now question their safety—and impact on the environment.
According to a 2010 study from the World Health Organization, single-use diapers often contain such chemicals as dioxins, linked to long- and short-term health problems, among them skin reactions, and impaired immune, nervous and endocrine function. Dioxins, a by-product from bleaching diapers with chlorine, are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as highly carcinogenic chemicals.
In response, there’s a growing trend toward greener and biodegradable disposables free of chlorine, fragrance, phthalates and dyes, such as those designed by Seventh Generation, Parasol and Cutie Pea Bamboo Diapers.
It’s no secret that manufacturers save big money by using plastic. Chemicals in cheap plastics can make toys more durable or flexible, improve their appearance or make them flame-retardant. But industrial toxic chemicals like BPA, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), cadmium, chorine, arsenic and even lead can be hazardous to kids’ health and development.
Phthalates keep plastics pliable and are widely used in teething rings and pacifiers. These plasticizers are known to leach from products through chewing and sucking, as well as emit gasses into the air kids breathe. Some animal studies have shown that phthalates can adversely impact the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.
Children’s bodies have limited ability to process and eliminate toxic chemicals, which makes products containing them especially dangerous.
Cautious parents can opt for toys made from organic materials like cotton, or unfinished or naturally treated wood.
Lori Smyth, who opened Tidepool Toys & Games with her husband in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island nearly a decade ago, says there’s been an increased demand, particularly among millennials, for items that are not only good for their kids but also good for the planet.
“Customers want products that are environmentally friendly, safe and fun for their kids,” she says.
The Smyths, who recently added Kids’ Ketch in downtown historic Lewes, tailor their inventory to those requests. (Kids’ Ketch offers earth- and kid-friendly clothing like Kiki Pants made from viscose bamboo, free of chemicals and flame retardants.) Among the toys they carry are Green Toys that use recycled milk jugs to construct toys like trucks and trains, and Green Start books created from recycled cardboard.
“It gives us pride and makes us feel good,” Smyth says, “that we can offer toys that are high quality, often exceed government safety standards and have great play value that parents can confidently introduce to their children.”
Beware of marketing when it comes to baby bath products. Even soaps and lotions labeled “gentle” or “natural” can contain toxic chemicals. According to a survey by the Environmental Working Group, children encounter about 27 dangerous chemicals through exposure to personal care products alone. Avoid phthalates and ingredients that end in “-paraben.” (For a full list of chemicals to watch out for, visit ewg.org).
Since children sleep a lot (if you’re lucky!), they are particularly susceptible to breathing in toxic irritants used in standard sleep products, like crib mattresses.
Safer bedding options are those made from organically grown cotton, wool and organic latex, and that are waterproofed with food-grade polyethylene rather than vinyl or similar compounds.
While harmful additives are a part of consumer life in the 21st century, parents can visit healthystuff.org, a valuable database of materials present in popular baby products and toys.
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your child’s health.