Green Home

We wish you a non-toxic Christmas!It may be the season to be jolly but little do we know that Christmas also brings the potential for poisonings, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center experts. Here’s a checklist of toxic dangers that lurk in our homes as we get ready all those Christmas crackers and garlands.


It’s not that we are going to let babies drink it. But ethyl alcohol and denatured alcohol is also found in gifts such as perfumes and colognes. ER sees more children due to alcohol poisoning during the holiday season. Kids may drink unfinished cocktails lying around after holiday parties. Because of their small weight, babies are more likely to get alcohol poisoning than are adults.


Children who play with the leaves of this plant and then rub their eyes may experience redness and irritation. Eating poinsettias can cause gastrointestinal and local irritation.


Berries of mistletoe contain toxins that can affect the nervous system, blood pressure and the heart. Babies usually only ingest the berries in small amounts (i.e., one or two berries), so there is no documented cause for alarm or necessity for treatment.   


The berries of a few varieties of holly plants are reported to be poisonous. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a slowing down of breathing and heart rate can occur after eating holly berries. Children might also eat the leaves of holly plants. These could also contain potentially toxic chemicals.


This plant allegedly contains toxic solanine. Reported signs and symptoms of solanine toxicity include dilated pupils, salivation, nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, diarrhea, respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, confusion, irregular heartbeat, coma and death. It is unclear how many Jerusalem cherries would have to be ingested to produce any of these symptoms.


Very little is known about how poisonous this plant is to humans, but it can sure cause allergies.


Some ingredients, such as salicylates in oil of wintergreen, menthol, camphor, eucalyptol, and other oils and flavorings, can be extremely toxic if ingested.


Dry ice is composed of carbon dioxide, and skin contact can cause tissue damage, and burns to the mouth can occur from ingestion. Flush the skin with lukewarm water if direct exposure occurs, and give lukewarm water to drink if a solid piece is swallowed.

As a reminder: if anyone has inquiries about other products in their home that may be hazardous, they are welcome to call Drug and Poison Information Center (DPIC) toll free at 1-800-222-1222 any time of night or day.


It's Pretty But Is It Worth the Risk?

Melamine Baby Cup

Now, sit tight: Chinese officials estimate that about 20 percent of the dairy companies in China sell products tainted with melamine which was added to fraudulently increase the milk’s volume. 

Now think about this: when was the last time you had Chinese takeaway? Or et rice crackers? Or anything else that may have milk or soy powder from China in it?

There you go. I don’t know about you, but I am scared eatless.

Melamine, a tough industrial plastic made of petroleum and formaldehyde, has been illegally used in Chinese baby milk formula, which killed at least 4 infants.

Thousands of babies were diagnosed with acute kidney failure.

Melamine caused kidney stones as large as 1 cm in diameter in babies as young as 6 months old.

Chinese leading dairy producer Sanlu recalled all powdered milk which revealed melamine presence in high doses in 22 brands of infant formula. Melamine has also been found in products produced by 21 other companies, including Mengniu, Yili, and Yashili.

The practice of adding “melamine scrap” to animal feed is reported to be widespread in China in order to give the appearance of increased protein content in animal feed.

Melamine can fool nitrogen testing of food products that reveal the protein content because melamine is 66% nitrogen, more than protein.

Standard tests such as the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine.

Melamine can cause fatal kidney stones. It is also an irritant when inhaled or in contact with the skin or eyes. Ingestion of melamine may lead to reproductive damage as well as bladder stones, which can lead to bladder cancer.

The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in diet does lead to acute renal failure in cats. On 30 March 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration reported finding white granular melamine in the pet food, in samples of white granular wheat gluten imported from a single source in China. Further vegetable protein imported from China was later implicated.

Currently, China is the world’s largest exporter of melamine, while its domestic consumption still grows by 10% per year.

Which makes me wonder: if the Chinese cannot consume all the melamine they produce, how soon it appears in crackers, noodles, packaged dinners, and sweets on shelves of the grocery stores worldwide?

What Else You May Want to Know about Melamine…

Manufacture of melamine involves formaldehyde and generates a considerable amount of waste water, which is a pollutant if discharged directly into the environment. The off-gas contains large amounts of ammonia.

Melamine is used combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin that makes glossy countertops, dry erase boards, fabrics, glues, kitchen wares, and flame retardants.

Lots of baby cutlery, cups and plates is made of melamine. It’s a cheery, pretty plastic, durable and looks like china. I have just thrown away my daughter’s favorite melamine plate with Winnie the Pooh; I always knew we shouldn’t have bought it. But it was cute. And she actually preferred it to the rest of her plates.

Melamine is one of the major components in Pigment Yellow 150, a colorant in inks and plastics.

Because melamine resin is often used in food packaging and tableware, melamine can migrate to food and beverages. Now, isn’t that a good reason to run, not walk to your kitchen and check what your baby is eating and drinking from? Not to mention that pretty melamine salad bowl and ladle you cherish?

SOURCES: Wikipedia, PubMed (U.S. National Library of Health)

The chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, found in plastic products, including baby bottles, is now linked to heart disease and diabetes.

The study by British researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among 1,455 U.S. adults, those with the highest levels of BPA were more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities than those with the lowest levels.

But U.S. regulators said on Tuesday they still believe it is safe.

“We have confidence in the data that we’ve looked at to say that the margin of safety is adequate,” FDA official Laura Tarantino said.

“But we have not recommended that anyone change their habits or change their use of any of these products because right now we don’t have the evidence in front of us to suggest that people need to.”

Maybe bisphenol A has already damaged her brain?

Bisphenol A is used in plastic food and beverage containers and in the coating of food cans. It’s most commonly found in baby bottles made of plastic #7 (polycarbonate).

Until now, environmental and consumer activists who have questioned the safety of BPA have relied on animal studies.

However, the human studies showing that BPA is damaging our liver and heart are downright scary.

And the worst thing is, FDA is doing nothing to acknowledge the danger. Well, to think that in 70 years of FDA’s existence this agency banned only nine toxic substances, it’s not really surprising.


If there’s one thing that everyone knows about newborn babies, it’s that they don’t sleep through the night, and neither do their parents.

But in fact, those first six months of life are crucial to developing the regular sleeping and waking patterns, known as circadian rhythms, that a child will need for a healthy future.

Some children may start life with the sleep odds stacked against them, though, say University of Michigan sleep experts who study the issue.

Babies whose mothers experienced depression any time before they became pregnant, or developed mood problems while they were pregnant, are much more prone to having chaotic sleep patterns in the first half-year of life than babies born to non-depressed moms, the team has found.

“Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an elevated risk for depression in everybody, at all stages of life, but in new moms, because of the hormonal changes and the need to recover from the pregnancy and birth, sleep deprivation can really be a problem,” says Roseanne Armitage, Ph.D., the leader of the U-M Sleep & Chronophysiology Laboratory team at the U-M Depression Center.

“It can interfere with the social rhythms that are important for keeping the circadian clock in the brain in sync, it can minimize the amount of energy moms have to care for their infants, and it can contribute to the development of depression.”

For instance, infants born to depressed moms nap more during the day, take much longer to settle down to sleep at night, and wake up more often during the night. It’s a baby form of the insomnia that millions of adults know all too well.

Not only does this add to parents’ sleepless nights, but it may help set these children up for their own depression later in life.

But this doesn’t mean that babies born to depressed moms are doomed to follow in their mothers’ shoes, even though depression does tend to run in families.

Nor does it mean that parents who haven’t suffered depression can ignore the importance of their babies’ sleep.

Rather, it means that all parents – especially ones with a history of depression – must pay close attention to the conditions they create for their infant’s sleep, from birth.

“Keeping a very regular sleep schedule is incredibly important,” says Armitage. “We know that for both children and adults, and from this study we now know that for infants, the more stable the bedtime the less chaotic sleep is during the night.”

Infants need a lot more sleep than grownups, but tend to get it in shorter chunks of time throughout the day and night, at least for the first months of life.

“We think we’ve identified one of the risk factors that may contribute to these infants’ going on to develop depression later in life,” says Armitage. “Not everybody who has poor sleep or weak circadian rhythms will develop depression, but if sleep stays consistently disrupted and circadian rhythms are weak, the risk is significantly elevated.”

That’s why, she says, it’s so crucial to help all babies – and new parents – get the sleep they need.

Those first few months, in fact, are a kind of training camp for the baby’s sleep in the future, Armitage says. Babies’ bodies and brains need to be trained to understand that they should sleep when it’s dark, and be awake when it’s light – the basic circadian rhythm that governs sleep patterns for a person’s entire life. This sets the baby’s “body clock” right from the start.

Of course, infants and toddlers need to nap during the daytime to get all the sleep they need – 11 to 18 hours for newborns in the first two months, 11 to 15 hours for the next ten months, and 12 to 14 hours from ages 1 to 3 years. And, newborns wake up in the night when they need food.

“But going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, establishing rituals around the bedtime helps infants begin to distinguish between night sleep and day sleep,” says Armitage. “Put the baby in day clothes for naps, and in night clothes for night sleep – babies pick up these cues.

Parents can also make sure that babies are regularly around bright light during the day, which helps the body develop circadian rhythms linked to light cycles. Of course, the bright light shouldn’t shine directly in babies’ eyes, and they should be shielded from direct sunlight or wear sunscreen outside.

By four months of age, a baby’s sleep schedule should have become regular, more focused on nighttime sleep, and their blocks of sleep more “consolidated” or longer – especially at night.

The main thing, she says, is to make sure babies and small children get enough sleep on an increasingly regular schedule – and that their moms do too.

The period immediately after giving birth is a high-risk time for depression, even in women who have never had depression before. Those who have had depression, or have relatives who have suffered depression, are most at risk. This “postpartum depression” as it is called can be worsened by lack of sleep – or perhaps even partly triggered by it.


Babies and toddlers who live within 400 m of a source of diesel exhaust have double the risk for persistent allergic cough by the age of 3 years, compared to infants who live further away.

If babies are exposed to high levels of indoor allergens, such as paint, household chemicals, and carpentry, this risk is more than 4-fold higher.

The findings of a study showing the link were reported here this week at the Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2008 Annual Meeting by Patrick H. Ryan, PhD, an epidemiologist from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and coordinator of the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study.

“The timing of exposure and the mechanism of exposure are key” in the development of allergic wheeze and asthma in childhood, Dr. Ryan told meeting attendees.


Dr. Ryan’s team sampled dust samples in the homes, day cares, and other indoor environments where the infants spent a significant amount of time. They measured endotoxins and allergens and measured air quality —in particular diesel exhaust particles — in the homes of 792 newborns living within 400 m of interstate highways.

In this analysis, the investigators followed 624 infants through age 3 years, conducting physical assessments and measuring blood samples at 6, 12, 24, and 36 months.


Dr. Ryan reported that exposure to high levels of diesel exhaust had an increased risk for persistent allergic wheezing at age 3 years. Exposure did not increase risk for persistent nonallergic wheezing.

“The combination of the particles and the endotoxin create a chronic inflammatory condition,” he said. The findings were supported by elevated IgE levels in the exposed children, indicating an allergic immune response.

Dr. Busse said the findings indicate the importance of the environment in the incidence of asthma and the importance of educating the public as to the causes, symptoms, and proper treatment of asthma, a disease that is sharply increasing in prevalence.

I am so over Method or any other dioxane-laden household cleanser that claim to be non-toxic and generally human-friendly. Here’s why.

As I was cleansing my kitchen preparing for a playdate, my own baby snatched the bottle of cutesy “non-toxic” METHOD cucumber-scented all-purpose cleaner, and in minute or two, she spritzed herself soaking wet in that “mineral”, ghastly toxic disinfectant. Her eyes were red, she was breathing frantically, and I rinsed her with cold water mercilessly, top to toes. Next minute, after my baby was dressed in clean set of clothes, the METHOD cleanser went down the drain, and I had to come up with something that would be tough on grease yet possible to make from the ingredients in the kitchen cabinet.

Here’s what I poured into my freshly rinsed METHOD spray bottle:

10 ounces of plain tap water (oh no, 5 ounces did come from the Brita filter jug)

5 ounces of SO Organic White Wine Vinegar (you can use any type of good color-free vinegar, including Heinz)

10 drops tea tree essential oil (antibacterial)

10 drops rosemary oil (smells nice and antibacterial)

2 drops peppermint oil (for the fun of it – and yes, antibacterial)

Surprise, surprise: it cleanses better than METHOD or any other conventional all-purpose cleanser. No streaks were to be seen on stainless steel surfaces or wooden countertops. The scent was sour and a bit offending, for a second, but if you explain to yourself that all you are breathing are vinegar and essential oil vapours, it becomes so much more bearable.

By the way, you can add any blend of essential oils to the cleansing mix. Keep tea tree oil for its disinfectant action and experiment with clove, pine, sandalwood, rose, rosewood, patchouli, ylang ylang, or any other sort of woodsy, chic, sensual fragrances. When I added more essential oils, the scent was much more pleaseant, sort of aromatherapeutic.

Oh, and you save tons of money, too! Even if I use 50 percent concentration of an organic wine vinegar (although I am fine using plain Heinz for countertops), my huge homemade bottle of all-purpose cleanser costs me $1.50, including essential oils. Sounds good to me!

baby in bed

Movie merchandising is a good thing, I guess. Until it kills children.

Today I have learned that a pirate-themed chest bed killed a toddler in Roseville, California.

Bayside Furnishings has announced a recall of about 9,350 boat and pirate themed children’s beds, sold at Costco and elsewhere, in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

CPSC has received one report of a death involving a 22-month-old boy of Roseville, California. He was strangled by the lid of the boat bed’s toy chest when it fell on the back of his head and trapped his neck. [Source: news]

The beds in question are LaJolla boat bed and the Pirates of the Caribbean bed. Both beds include a toy chest attached to the foot of the bed. The toy chests that come with the beds are designed in the shape of a ship or boat’s “bow” and attached to the beds as a footboard.

The lid supports on the toy chests fail to prevent the lid from closing too quickly, putting young children at risk of getting trapped and strangled by the lid.

Both are twin size trundle beds made of hardwood and heavily decorated.  They were sold at Costco,, and furniture retail stores for between $700 and $1,400.

Surprise, surprise: both beds were made in China.

Don’t get me wrong: there are thousands of perfectly safe and solid toys and other baby items coming from China. I guess the blame is on the designers of these stupid beds and on equally thoughtless parents who are carried away by this entire movie extravaganza. I truly doubt that a 22-month toddler would insist on his parents buying a pirate-boat-shaped bed. At this age they are more about toy trucks, teddy bears, and Thomas the Train, at most.

So what makes a perfectly safe baby bed? Here are some ideas.

If possible, go second-hand, vintage, or handmade. Brand-new baby furnishings made of MDF or glued together with conventional furniture glues are most likely to off-gas formaldehyde which is linked to abnormal hormone “mimicking” and developmental defects.

Second-hand or older cribs will have already off-gassed harmful fumes. But if you feel uncomfortable about the safety of an older crib, buying an unfinished hardwood version is the healthiest choice. Better yet, find a local craftsman and get a crib made to order. It will make an adorable family heirloom and will serve many generations of kids, provided that you pass it along to the young family when you are done using it.

Look for cribs made from certified, sustainably-forested hardwoods, which can be converted to a full-size junior bed as baby grows. Here’s what to check for in any crib, new or used.

• No missing, loose, or broken screws or brackets.

• No more than two and three-eighths inches between crib slats.

• No corner posts above the end panels.

• No decorative headboards or footboards with large openings.

• No cracked or peeling paint or splinters.

• Drop-side latches that remain at least four inches above the mattress when lowered

Babies spend in bed half of their life. Isn’t that a good enough reason to make it as safe as possible?

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