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Some Ways to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

1)   Repurpose items.  Rather than buying new furniture for the nursery. convert that dingy old dresser into a changing table. (Ask relatives what’s in their attic or look on Craigslist or at yard sales for what you need.) The off-gassing from materials, if any, will long be over, and you can often even find deals on solid wood. Spend your dollars on what will really matter, like wooden teethers and a decent and a safe crib. And some of the cutest baby clothes, once out-grown, can be packed away to be used as doll clothes one day.

2)   Use less stuff.  Do you really need those dryer sheets? Or the umpteenth “miracle” cream just taking up space in the medicine cabinet? Go back to basics by figuring out what you use need on a daily basis, and chuck the rest. Save your fancy makeup for the evening out. And whenever you can, pick fragrance free or go without the smelly stuff. (Most fragrances are loaded with phthalates. Mmmm.) Also, treat the plastic you own more carefully — never heat plastic in the dishwasher or microwave (pop food out of the container and handwash the sippy cups). I find that having to hand-wash stuff becomes its own reason not to buy more plastic!

3)   Replace as you go. Instead of tossing everything out at once, replace items as they run out or wear out with safer ones. When that non-stick pan begins to show wear, replace it with an enameled or a cast-iron pan instead.  When the coffee maker starts to sputter, think about replacing it with a French press to avoid heating plastics every time you brew a cup. And when all those plastic food containers show stains, substitute glass containers with BPA-free lids. Lastly, when you need a new vacuum, buy one with a HEPA filter to reduce both allergens and toxins in the dust.

4)   Enlist help. Tell friends and family that for the baby shower, holidays and birthdays you would like “green” gifts that help your family to detox your home. Help them pick suitable toys through a registry or just a note with a list of things you’d prefer they get for your child or home. They may even want your research so they can make their own positive changes! (Or they may grumble and say you’re nuts, but really, do you want all those loud, annoying plastic gizmos?) And make your friends and family leave their shoes near the door (or better yet, the garage), which really reduces tracked-in toxins and pesticides.

5)   Scrounge a bit. Keep tabs on your local parents’ list serv or check out yard sales, book sales, and thrift stores for nicer items and used books. A little quick action in response to a post from a parent selling a premium toy can save a lot of money! (Our oh-so-fancy wooden Svan highchair came used off our neighborhood listserv for less than half the price of a new one.) Check ebay and Craigslist as well for deals on a particular item you covet.

6)   Prioritize. Can’t afford to go all-organic? Just pick the dirty dozen (a list of the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables), plus milk and peanut butter, and buy those organically. (Dairy, berries, apples, peanuts and potatoes are the worst.) Or start with cleaning supplies, which can be made simply with baking soda and vinegar or other homespun recipes.  Skip convenience foods and more processed foods, which contain less nutrition, are far more likely to have harmful preservatives and additives, and are less likely to be organic. Buying food from the edges of the supermarket (vegetables, fruit, dairy, and breads) will save you money and keep you safer and healthier as well. Besides, cooking with children is great fun, and teaches measurements, flavors, and how to help mom.

7   Think ahead. When you go bargain hunting, think about what your child will need over the next few years, not just today. In thrift stores, I look for clothes that are like-new and good labels that are two, or even three, sizes ahead of where Maya is today. She’ll get there all too soon! And for toys, I invest in really nice toys if they will facilitate open-ended play that will enable them to grow with her – wooden blocks, imagination starters like animals, and cardboard puzzles that are images now and a puzzle later. Hand puppets and finger puppets are wonderful ways to learn about animals, and lead to fun. Dress-up clothes can come from thrift stores around Halloween, when the costumes are plentiful. And even baby rattles can be kept for the box of musical instruments, or you can buy shakers that double as gorgeous rattles for baby.

8)   Air it out.  It’s free and easy to roll down the window in your car for a minute or two whenever you start driving, to air out the VOCs (or volatile organic compounds, as in paints) emitted by all the plastics in cars, as well as the flame retardants in your kiddo’s car seats. It’s also a good idea to open your windows at home when you can to let the house breathe a little, and to run cold water from your kitchen tap for 10 seconds before using it for cooking. (Don’t use hot tap water directly from the tap for cooking, as it can contain heavy metals from the pipes.) And skip the vinyl cover for strollers — it’s better to get a little wet than to have the baby breathing flame retardants, PVC and nasty phthalates.

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