Baby toys can be dangerous...

Baby toys can be dangerous...

Last week, a report by the Michigan-based Ecology Center found more than one-third of toys tested contained toxic levels of lead, mercury, cadmium or other harmful materials.

 

 

The ecologists who want to build a toxic-toy database at HealthyToys.org, tested 1,500 bestselling toys currently on shelves across the USA and  Canada.

Toxic toys tested showed levels of lead far in excess of the 600 parts-per-million laid out by the federal government: some toys contained lead as high at 50,000 ppm.

Mattel has settled a lawsuit brought by 39 states after some its toys were found to contain dangerous levels of lead.

Mattel will make the $12 million payment by January 30, 2009, and it will be divided among all U.S. states.

The settlement also requires that Mattel follow more stringent standards for the use of lead in toys beginning November 30, 2008, as well as maintaining records for four years regarding any subcontractors that manufacture parts of any of its toys.

The toy recall affected about 2 million toys between August 2 and October 25, 2007.

The toys in question carried Mattell and Fisher-Price brand names and were manufactured by contractors in China.

Earlier this year, a report surfaced showing that some deadly toys had resurfaced with new names.

 baby

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.

HOW DID THEY FIND IT

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.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN

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.

Method

A few years ago, if you were looking for less toxic cleaning supplies, you ended up buying sleek bottles of METHOD all-purpose washes and cleansers. The bottles looked stylish. The claims looked important. The messages were whimsical. And the guys behind the brand were everywhere, positioning themselves as pioneers of non-toxic, crusaders for safe and pure kitchens, bathrooms, and nurseries.

It was until a few weeks ago that I ended up using my METHOD supplies brought here, to England, from Canada, and I headed to our local supermarket to buy some more.

In the UK, all manufacturers are legally required to list ALL ingredients on the label. So what did I see?

Apparently, METHOD cleansing products are just as toxic as conventional dish detergents and all-purpose cleansers – but they cost up to 30 percent more. A greenwashing tax? For example, METHOD Wood for Good Non-Toxic Floor Cleaner contained the following:

1-methoxy-2-propanol: propylene glycol methyl ether is irritating to the respiratory tract. Can cause eye, nasal and throat irritation, as well as headache, dizziness, drowsiness and incordination upon inhalation. Skin and eye contact can cause irritation, redness and pain. Chronic exposure may damage the liver and kidneys. [source: MSDS JT Baker]

Linear alcohol ethoxylate: ethoxylated compounds are usually contaminated with potent carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane. “1,4-Dioxane was found in ethoxylated raw materials at levels up to 1410 ppm, and at levels up to 279 ppm in cosmetic finished products. Levels of 1,4-dioxane in excess of 85 ppm in children’s shampoos indicate that continued monitoring of raw materials and finished products is warranted.” [Source: Occurrence of 1,4-Dioxane in Cosmetic Raw Materials and Finished Cosmetic Products. Roderick E. Black. Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL. May 2001, Volume: 84, Issue: 3.]

Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate: this fungicide is linked to impaired human reproduction and development, reduced fertility or reduced chance for a healthy, full-term pregnancy. [Source: EWG.org]

DMDM hydantoin: this preservative releases formaldehyde which is a proven human carcinogen [Source: National Library of Medicine HazMap]. Can also cause itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of skin.

Does anything of the above sound like something you’d want to use around your naked skin or even worse, the naked skin of your baby? I don’t think so!

 Earlier this year, Organic Consumer Association tested some of so-called “organic” cleansers and dishwashing liquids for the presence of 1,4-DIoxane. METHOD products didn’t fare well. While METHOD is not named in the famous Californian lawsuit against the makers of 1,4-Dioxane-contaminated personal care products, they aren’t surely as non-toxic as the METHOD creators want us to believe. Method Dish Naturally Derived Ultra Concentrate revealed whopping 27.5 ppm 1,4-Dioxane – definitely toxic!

Bottom line: I returned all METHOD products and announced the complete METHOD ban which is rather sad because with all their synthetic goodness they smell quite nicely. I won’t certainly purchase anything from this line until they come out from their greenwashed closet and list ALL ingredients clearly and in full – including the health consequences that may arise from use of these ingredients. I truly doubt this will happen any time soon (if ever), which means more baking soda, castile soap, vinegar, and elbow grease in my green kitchen!

baby in bed

Mention the word pollution and most people think of factory emissions and traffic fumes. Step inside your home, hide under the blanket and you’re safe, right? Wrong. The air we breathe under the lovely patchwork bedspread can contain hundreds of noxious chemicals, seeping from the mattress and the bed itself.

In fact, you may be sleeping in a cloud of formaldehyde contained in your permanent-press bed sheets that could cause tiredness, insomnia, headaches, coughing, and skin irritations. Your bed is most likely made of plywood that is manufactured using glue that emits even more formaldehyde. The furniture polish spews off phenol, a suspected carcinogen that can irritate the skin.

Your mattress may be made of flame-retardant polyurethane foam that spews polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Even if you sleep on a spring mattress, it may be treated with fire retardants, just as your pillows and blankets are. Do we really need it? According to statistics, 6 babies die in fires across the U.S. At the same time, millions of families inhale toxic fire retardant emissions every night. You do the math.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are known hormone disruptors which accumulate in placenta and contaminates breast milk. These volatile compounds don’t biodegrade. Instead, they accumulate in the air contributing to indoor air pollution.

Scientists from University of California in Berkeley estimated than pregnant women in the United States have 20 to 40 times higher levels of PBDE in blood than women observed in Europe or Japan.

Across the world, PBDEs are withdrawn from the market after scientists linked PBDEs to developmental effects and a tendency to linger in humans and wildlife.

In June 2007 California accepted a bill that bans the use of either chlorinated or brominated fire retardants in domestic furniture or bedding such as mattresses, pillows and comforters. The bill would remove from manufacturers’ arsenal two of the most commonly used flame retardants: Tris, banned from children’s pajamas in the 1970s amid toxicity concerns; and Firemaster 550, a brand marketed as a replacement for “Penta,” a type of PBDE banned in California earlier in the decade.

For curious minds, here are two ingredients listed on Firemaster 550 Material Safety Data Sheet: Ingredient A, Ingredient B. That’s right. It’s a heck of a toxic trade secret.

But there are hundreds of thousands of mattresses and pillows that were soaked in fire retardant before the legislators banned their use. Here’s what you should do: Replace your mattress if it’s at least two years old. Your hypoallergenic pillow stuffed with synthetic fiber should also get a boot. Organic mattresses made of naturally fire-retardant wool, rubber, coir and cotton which are completely untreated are now available from many online retailers and may even be available at your local mattress store. Buy pillows that are made of feathers or wool. If you suffer from allergies, buy a pillow made of natural latex foam.

If forking out a month’s salary for a mattress is out of question, head on to IKEA. Since 2002 the Swedish furniture giant makes very comfortable mattresses and tasteful bedroom furniture that are completely free of PBDEs. IKEA’s baby furniture and mattresses have been PBDE-free for the last 15 years. Serta also makes mattresses that are free from toxic fire retardants.

Replacing your whole bedroom may be financially challenging but it doesn’t mean you will have to continue sleeping in a toxic cloud if money is scarce. You can toxin-proof your current mattress by placing a thick organic mattress pad or at least a protector on top. Organic mattress pads are usually made of untreated naturally flame-resistant wool or natural latex for allergy sufferers. You can also temporarily get away with a generously cut organic duvet placed between a mattress and your sheets – staple or sew it to the mattress underneath to prevent it from slipping and creasing.

When it comes to bed linens, opt for unbleached organic cotton, linen or hemp. These cost more than conventional linens but will last a lifetime since chlorine bleaching damages the fibers and shorten the lifespan of a conventional bed sheet or pillow cover. Unbleached naturally-dyed cottons and linen will last more because the fibers aren’t broken. Comb the eco-catalogs and online stores for products like organic or transitional cotton sheets (organically-grown cotton on previously sprayed fields) and organic cotton pillow covers. Duvets with natural fillings such as silk, hemp, feathers or down are not usually expensive but will keep your luxuriously warm and chemical-free, too.

Critics point out that natural materials are more likely to trap allergens and moisture. To minimize this risk, make it a habit to air your mattress regularly by removing your bed linens and opening your windows wide, if it’s a winter, or taking the mattress outside and leaving under bright sun when it’s warm.

Just let’s be honest: do you really enjoy the smell of vanilla or maybe you need that little plug-in to cover up the smell of not-so-clean curtains, pet’s lack of toilet manners, another burnt dinner or even worse, stale tobacco smoke?

There are many things that may want you reach for that aerosol spray or a scented candle. But in fact, most air fresheners are making you ill. Studies show that pregnant women and little babies are particularly vulnerable. Here’s why.

There are two most popular types of air fresheners: spray deodorizers, which are squirted into the air, and solid forms, which release scents continuously. Both work by emitting heavily scented chemicals which mask unwanted odors using synthetic perfumes such as musk, and other aromatic hydrocarbons to provide fragrance.

The toxic chemicals released by air fresheners –particularly those with pine, orange and lemon scents – are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are well-proven toxins, many of which have been linked to a range of diseases and conditions when being inhaled even in low concentrations over a long period of time.

Some of these chemicals include benzene, petroleum-derived chemical, which causes cancer in animals and has been linked to leukemia; xylene, which has been linked to nausea and sick building syndrome, as well as liver and kidney damage; phenol, which can cause kidney, respiratory, neurological and skin problems;   naphthalene, a suspected carcinogen, which has been linked to blood, kidney and liver problems; and formaldehyde, a colorless, unstable gas. Inhaling formaldehyde fumes in even small amounts can cause coughing, a sore throat, and respiratory and eye problems. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer, particularly in the nasal cavity.

According to University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, using an air freshener in a child’s room along with an air purifier that creates ozone can result in formaldehyde levels 25 percent higher than the state recommends. Also of concern are terpenes, compounds derived from plant oils that are widely used to give cleaning products and air fresheners their fruity scent.

As irritating as they are on instant contact with your eyes, nose and lungs, these chemical toxins act even worse when they are carried with bloodstream around the body. Most of them have a cumulative effect. Doctors believe that VOCs remain in the body and accumulate in placenta after each exposure to air freshener and this builds up their potency.

This potent cocktail of toxins is especially harmful to newborns. A new study by Brunel University (UK) has connected the use of air fresheners in the home with an increased risk of earache and stomach ache in babies. The study also found that new mothers suffered from more headaches and depression if they heavily relied on commonly available air fresheners to keep air pleasantly scented.

 Another study by Bristol University found that babies frequently exposed to aerosols were one fifth more likely to suffer from stomach disorders, diarrhea and cramps. And a study in Australia concluded that fumes from VOCs found in air freshener could trigger asthma attacks as well as allergic reactions such as watery eyes and skin irritation, lightheadedness and nausea.

  So what should we do to keep our homes smelling like vanilla cookies if we aren’t in mood to bake? Try cleaner versions of air fresheners. Look for non-aerosol canisters and words such as “Biodegradable”, “Plant-based”, “Formulated without synthetic fragrance”, “Hypoallergenic”, “Contains no formaldehyde/phthalates”. Green non-toxic air fresheners are made by Seventh Generation, Miessence and BioLogic (Australia).

You can also buy an all-natural body deodorant (Weleda, for example) in citrus or wild rose scent and generously spray it whenever you feel like (but avoid sage – this herb is known to diminish breast milk supply!) Most natural non-aerosol deodorants are quite concentrated, and a little squirt will last a long time.

You may also try some grandma’s recipes. Put some cloves in a pan of water and simmer it on the stove. Another way to fill your home with a natural fragrance is to simmer four lemons cut into quarters or to bake them in an oven for about 45 minutes. The citric acid can also destroy airborne toxic particles.

For bathroom odors, a simple lit match often does the trick. 

Soy candles are fun and easy to make from loose soy wax chips and pre-made wicks using pregnancy-friendly essential oils such as lavender, vanilla and lemon. If you are not in DIY mood, try a lush candle by The Organic Pharmacy, Dyptique, or an ultra-luxurious candle with essential oils by Costes. For baby’s room, try a candle by California Baby with scents of lavender, lemon or orange – these scents quickly eliminate a soiled nappy odor.

Potpourri

is also a good replacement of toxic air fresheners. Browse your local charity stores, such as Goodwill, take a walk at antique market and pick the lovely “shabby chic” shallow and wide china or crystal vase. Fill it with dried rose petals, pine cones or lavender florets. Pour 5-6 drops of an essential oil blend of your choice and place the vase in your bathroom or kitchen.

Try filling your home with plants, as they can effectively detox the air by absorbing toxic vapors and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere, which also improves air quality. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and rubber tree (Ficus elastic) are especially good. Research by NASA found that a single spider plant could reduce dangerous levels of toxics in a room by 96 per cent in 24 hours. 

Eliminating synthetic air fresheners from your household will go a long way toward reducing your unborn baby exposure to harmful chemicals. You’ll greatly reduce the risk of accidentally poisoning children and pets, too.   

As a green mama, I cannot help but feel smug. Here’s my baby’s bathroom, filled with Nighty-Night Badger Balms, Weleda bath gels, and a diaper oil (not balm, because, you know, balms are thick and pull the skin) made of biodynamic cold-pressed oils and organic infusions. Wait, and we have a packet of baby wipes, perfectly green, eco-friendly baby wipes we picked along with our weekly pack of biodegradable disposables. (Yeah, I know. Disposables. Yikes. But wait, they aren’t that bad. Next time I’ll address this issue, too).

            Anyway, back to baby wipes. All-natural Eco Soft Baby Wipes – unscented, in a cutesy resealable wrapping with handwritten messages and black and white baby photos. Looks as trendy-green as you can get. After a closer look at the ingredient list (and we are well over half-pack) I went berserk.

            Natural? Eco-friendly? You wish!

            These “award-winning” baby wipes have a strong irritant, purebred petrochemical and a potentially poisonous neurotoxin benzyl alcohol as their third ingredient, right after water and glycerin. Here’s some information you may find useful:

            MSDA Safety Data Sheet for Benzyl Alcohol: “Toxicology: Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Severe irritant for eyes, skin and respiratory system.”

            CancerWeb (UK): “Benzyl alcohol: a colourless liquid with a sharp burning taste and slight odour. It is used as a local anaesthetic and to reduce pain associated with lidocaine injection. Also, it is used in the manufacture of other benzyl compounds, as a pharmaceutic aid, and in perfumery and flavoring. Pharmacological action: anaesthetics, local, pharmaceutic aid. (12 Dec 1998)”

            Benzyl alcohol has been proven to be toxic in a number of well-designed studies. Its use as a preservative and an antiseptic has been halted since the 1980s when sixteen premature infants died of acute toxic poisoning with benzyl alcohol, which was contained in an antibacterial solution used to flush catheters and other medical equipment. Here’s what a Pubmed abstract says:

            “Benzyl alcohol is used as a bacteriostatic preservative in parenteral (IV) medications. Benzyl alcohol is also known for its toxic effects including respiratory failure, vasodilation, hypotension, convulsions, and paralysis. Sixteen Neonatal deaths have been associated with the use of benzyl alcohol as a preservative in saline flush solutions… FDA has recommended that intravascular flush solutions containing benzyl alcohol not be used for newborns and that diluents with this preservative not be used as medications for these infants… Preservative free solutions are now being used for the infant population.”

            Source: “Neonatal Deaths Associated With Use of Benzyl Alcohol — United States”. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 11 Jun 1982. 31 (22): 290-1.

            Why would my child need a local anesthetic in her baby wipes? Why would an eco-conscious company use a proven toxin in award-winning baby products? Benzyl alcohol is listed the third among the ingredients, which means that it’s used in high concentrations.

            As a green mama of a “99.9 certified organic” baby girl, I noticed that my green princess developed a persistent irritation in her bottom area. This happened almost immediately after we started using Eco Soft Baby Wipes. The rash was bright red in color, the area was swollen and clearly painful, and the irritation did not seem to respond to treatment with zinc-oxide-based diaper creams and diaper rash creams. My daughter has not yet tasted a non-organic product in her life, and the fact that she encountered the toxic chemical through a “natural” baby product disturbs me most.

            As an author and an eco-conscious parent, I have done a lot of research on this subject. I know that benzyl alcohol naturally is contained as an aromatic compound in several plants, but in baby wipes it’s synthetic (not of plant origin), functioning as an antibacterial solution, not a fragrance (wipes are labeled fragrance-free).

            I wrote a letter to Naty S.A., the Swedish manufacturer of these baby wipes, telling them that I was very frightened, frustrated and upset by my discovery. So far, they responded with a canned letter saying that they plan to reformulate their products sometimes soon. What a cynicism!

            Needless to say, I will never use any of these baby wipes again, and I will do my best to inform fellow mamas about the dangerous ingredient used in Eco Soft wipes. Shame, really, because the diapers are really good. (Although now I am secretly thinking about switching to Tushies or Seventh Generation, but then I will need to take a regular trip to The Whole Foods in Kensington). We’ll see.  For now, I will pray to God that the damage done to my baby won’t spread further than dermatitis.

            Green solution:  ALWAYS CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST. THERE’S NO WAY AROUND IT. If there’s something you won’t eat, don’t put it on your baby’s skin. And yes, please go ahead and check your baby wipes’ ingredients NOW!