How to Create a Toxin-Free Environment For Your Family


By Mary Jane Horton

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. -Rachel Carson

Parents today have a huge job to undertake: Not only do they love their children, keep them safe, feed them, clothe them and educate them, but they need to teach them to be protectors of the environment for their children and generations to come. Herewith, some ways that you can help your child do just that.

Start out right
The best time to set up a toxic-free, earth-friendly home environment is before your baby is born. Being “green” is not just about using nontoxic items in your home-those with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and phalates (a toxic chemical in flooring, plastic containers and personal care products)-but also about “sustainability,” meaning that whatever we use now should not compromise the earth for future generations.

“For the nursery, it’s best to paint at least a month before the baby is born and to use paints with no or low VOCs,” says Christopher Gavigan, CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children’s environmental health. VOCs keep the paint liquidy in the can and help it dry on the wall; some are known to cause cancer, others can cause damage to organs. “Better yet,” Gavigan adds, “think of not doing things-not painting, not ripping up floors, not installing blinds.” If you must work on the nursery after your baby is born, be sure to air out the room before your baby sleeps in it-with windows open and fans blowing until there is no noticeable smell.

Milk paints-which are odorless and made from milk protein (casein) and earth pigments such as lime and clay-make the least offensive kinds of paints. For flooring, hard surfaces are best, according to Gavigan. Finally, vacuum the baby’s room well and often, using a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, which traps large amounts of very small particles, unlike vacuums with other kinds of filters.

Many experts agree that if you’re going to make one major green investment, it should be in an organic crib mattress. Choose one made from clean, safe, certified cotton and organic wool, and which doesn’t contain PVC, the surface material used in nearly all baby mattresses. To make the purchase of an organic crib mattress more cost-effective in the long run, get a crib that can be made into a toddler bed.

Beyond the nursery
“In terms of the baby and the environment, it’s important to think about what goes in, around and on your new baby,” says Gavigan. In terms of in, breastfeeding for a year is best, if possible. To make your breast milk as healthy as possible, eat natural, organic and unprocessed foods-whenever possible-and avoid harmful chemicals and growth hormones, sugars, colors and artificial sweeteners. For moms who can’t, or choose not to, breastfeed, there are organic formulas available (see “Resources, page TK). Other caveats: Opt for glass baby bottles instead of plastic or check for BPA-free plastic bottles; choose silicon nipples for bottles rather than latex; and make sure soft plastic toys and teethers don’t contain phthalates or PVC.

When it comes to baby care products-what goes on your baby-keep it simple. According to Gavigan, babies don’t need creams or powders, and for diaper cleaning, water and a cotton square work fine. Go easy on your own personal care products as well: Babies can absorb the chemicals in them through their skin when close to an adult’s skin.