Canadian health and environmental experts have issued a list today of the best ways to reduce five common sources of toxins associated with child health risks.
"Expectant and new parents, in particular, need practical advice to help them safeguard their children from health risks — such as learning and behavioral disorders, asthma, cancer and certain birth defects — that researchers have linked to toxic chemicals found in and around the home," Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE) director Erica Phipps said in a statement. [11 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby's Brain]
Here are the CPCHE's recommendations:
1) Dust often
One of the main sources of children’s exposure to toxic substances, house dust can be kept at bay with weekly vacuuming or wet mopping, as well as dusting with a damp cloth. The CPCHE recommended such cleaning twice a week if you have a crawling child. Dry dusting isn't advised because it circulates the dust back into the air.
"House dust is a major source of children's exposures to toxic substances including lead, which, even at very low levels, is known to be harmful to the developing brain," said Bruce Lanphear, an advisor to CPCHE and an expert on children's environmental health at Simon Fraser University.
Additionally, taking off your shoes at the door will minimize the amount of dirt and potentially harmful chemicals brought into your home. Getting rid of clutter and storing toys in closed containers will also help to reduce dust levels.
2) Clean green
The CPCHE recommended switching to simple, non-toxic cleaners. Baking soda can be used to scrub sinks and tubs, while vinegar mixed with water works well for most surfaces, including windows and floors.
The researchers said that bleach isn't needed for most cleaning tasks, and that air fresheners should be avoided. For laundry, choose fragrance-free detergents and avoid using dryer sheets, because fragrances in these products can contain potentially harmful chemicals. For "dry clean only" items, locate a cleaner that uses non-toxic methods.
3) Renovate right
Home renovation projects pose a threat to children and pregnant women, as contaminant-laden renovation dust and toxic fumes from paints, caulking and glues can cause neurological damage.
All renovation areas should be sealed off from the rest of the home by plastic sheeting and duct tape, and heating and cooling vents should be closed. Controlling all dust is especially important in homes built before 1978, because their renovation dust can contain high levels of lead.
Careful dust-busting is essential during and after any renovation or repair project, and children and pregnant women should stay away from any areas being renovated to avoid being exposed to potentially harmful substances. If you're painting, select less toxic paints, finishes and glues by buying products labeled "VOC-free," "zero-VOC" or "low-VOC," referring to volatile organic compounds.
4) Pick plastics carefully
The CPCHE advised ignoring "microwave-safe" labels and never placing plastic containers or plastic wrap in the microwave, because harmful chemicals can leach from the plastic into food and drinks.
Food should be stored in glass or ceramic containers rather than plastic, and consumers should eat fresh and frozen foods whenever possible to reduce their exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of most food and drink cans. BPA has been linked to a wide range of potential health effects, including impacts on the developing brain and the disruption of hormone functions.
The CPCHE also advised parents to avoid buying teething toys, bibs, bath toys, shower curtains and other items that contain PVC, a type of soft plastic commonly known as vinyl. These items can contain harmful chemicals called phthalates, which were banned from being used in children’s toys in June 2011. They advised discarding older toys and teethers made of this soft plastic.
5) Minimize mercury
Mercury, a metal that is toxic to the brain, is prominent in certain types of fish and shellfish, including tuna and swordfish. CPCHE experts recommended choosing fish low in mercury, such as Atlantic mackerel, herring, rainbow trout, wild or canned salmon and tilapia.
"Light" varieties of canned tuna are lower in mercury than albacore or "white" tuna. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children can eat up to 12 ounces of fish that are low in mercury a week. Ask local authorities about whether it's safe to eat fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.