For children, the home should be a sanctuary, free from threats and troubles. But the relentless infiltration of chemical-laced consumer products has turned the 21st century home into something of a child-health danger zone - one that many parents are all-too-rightly concerned about. Young children are especially susceptible to the toxic arsenal deployed in the kitchens and living rooms of the modern-day house. But shielding your kids from harm can be as easy as following a handful of simple measures, according to a new initiative - Creating Healthy Environments for Kids - launched in Ontario, Canada, yesterday.
The Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE) is asking parents to take action over home-based pollution, precisely because the developing brains and nervous systems of children are most prone to damage from a wide-range of everyday chemicals. The idea is to offer five practical and low-cost ways that parents can take up, to help to 'environmentally childproof' their homes.
So what are the measures that you can take to protect your kids?
1 Bust that dust: Surprisingly, dusty surfaces aren't just a canvas for kids to doodle on, embarrassingly pointing out your lack of time to get household chores done. Dust itself has been shown to accumulate toxic substances.
"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." says Prof. Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University. He adds, "an infant will absorb about 50 per cent of ingested lead, whereas an adult absorbs about 10 per cent. This, combined with children's frequent hand-to-mouth behavior, places children at much greater risk."
The Canadian House Dust Study, published this May, showed that levels of lead in dust could be as high as 4000 ppm. Regular vacuuming, or dusting with a damp cloth, will help to keep that dust problem under control - and may help to prevent other problems associated with dust-mites, such as asthma.
2 Go green when you clean: Many dangerous chemicals lurk in everyday shop-bought cleaning products, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOC). The EPA recommends we reduce exposure to VOCs significantly. And there are plenty of cleaning alternatives, with a few simple non-toxic products more than able to replace cupboards full of fancy cleaning sprays.
Baking soda makes for a great scourer, and vinegar is good for cleaning windows - and such cheap products can save money too. Air fresheners and fragranced laundry detergents are to be avoided too. They often contain chemicals which have been linked to the interruption of normal hormone activity.
3 Renovate right: When the home is being decorated or having a make-over, there are many chemicals in the fumes and dust which can cause problems. The CPCHE says that children and pregnant mothers should stay way from areas of the house that are having work done.
Do-It-Yourself products that have VOCs on the tin should definitely be skipped - look for those that advertise themselves to be VOC-free. The areas being renovated should also be sealed off with plastic sheeting, so as to stop dust and the toxic fumes - from painting, caulking and gluing - working through the home. And when DIY is in full flow, the need for regular dusting is even more important.
4 Get drastic with plastic: Plastics are ev erywhere, and can't be completely avoided. But there are two problem chemicals within commonly used plastics that should be steered clear of. First off is Bisphenol-A, another neurological nasty, which may cause damage to developing fetuses and babies, as well as affecting the hormone system.
For that reason it has been banned in both Canada, and the EU, from being used in plastics for baby bottles. But Bisphenol-A is also found in plastics lining drink and food cans - so cutting exposure means focusing on eating fresh or frozen foods that aren't stored in that way. The other problem plastic is PVC, or vinyl, which often makes up bibs, plastic raincoats and shower curtains.
The phthalates that this plastic compound contains are recognized as potentially blocking a healthy immune system - which has led to PVC being banned from many children's toys. It would make sense for parents to ditch older toys or teethers that might find their way into the mouths of small children, if they are made of this soft plastic.
5 Dish safer fish: The last of on the list of top sources of dangerous chemical, to be cut out of the home, comes through fish - mercury. This metal is another one that causes damage to developing nerve and brain tissues. So pregnant women and parents of small children would do well to stick to fish that don't accumulate mercury in their flesh.
That would include such fish as wild or canned salmon, herring, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel and tilapia. If you do catch your own fish fresh, make sure you check that the waters they are caught in are free from accumulated mercury toxins, before eating them.
Put all of these recommendations into action, and the CPCHE believe you will go a long way to 'de-toxifying' the home - making it a much safer environment for developing children. John Wilkinson - Ontario Minister of the Environment - commenting on the launch of the initiative, agreed. 'A clean environment is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and our grandchildren. It ensures they have the greatest chance of success, both in their early developmental years and throughout their lives,' he said.
Top Image Credit: © Eric Milos