Written by: Eco-Healthy Child Care®
Every parent watches their infant get up close and personal with their environment — like crawling on rugs, napping on a cushion, or mouthing an armrest. What we may not know is that when our children pursue these natural behaviors, they may also be interacting with some invisible hazards in our home furnishings.
As the National Director of the Eco-Healthy Child Care® program and a mother of two young children, I try my best to keep our home safe from environmental health hazards.
Many parents and child care providers do not know that some household furnishings can contain toxic materials that may harm children’s health.
Two chemicals of concern commonly found in household furnishings are formaldehyde and flame retardants.
Formaldehyde is often found in indoor air, in both homes and child care facilities at levels higher than recommended for health. Formaldehyde is used to add permanent-press quality to fabrics like draperies, as a component of glues in particleboard furniture and plywood flooring, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products. This chemical is a carcinogen and irritates the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Exposure to formaldehyde can also cause headaches, nausea, burning of the eyes, nose, and throat, skin rashes, coughing, and chest tightness.
Flame retardants — such as polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) — are used in furniture foam, carpet padding, back coating for draperies and upholstery, plastics, computers, televisions, building materials, and electrical appliances. Research indicates that more than 80% of PBDE exposure is from household dust. This chemical has been found in human blood, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood.
Infants and toddlers who are highly exposed to PBDEs may suffer damage to their developing nervous systems. High levels of exposure can also be toxic to the liver and thyroid.
I follow these recommendations from the Eco-Healthy Child Care® program to reduce my family’s exposure to formaldehyde and flame retardants. Please click here to view EHCC’s fact sheet on furniture & carpets.
• Avoid wall-to-wall carpets with carpet pads; choose hard flooring (wood, tile) instead.
• Choose solid wood furniture. Avoid use of pressed wood products that are made with glues that contain urea-formaldehyde resins (UF).
• Keep dust levels down by damp dusting and mopping.
• Choose area rugs that are made with natural fibers (cotton, hemp, wool) that are naturally fire-resistant and contain fewer chemicals.
• Clean area rugs with biodegradable cleaners.
• Vacuum when children are not present using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaner.
• Ventilate often, and especially while cleaning.
• Avoid products made with foam. Dispose of torn foam items (cushions, pillows, stuffed animals).
• Choose new items stuffed with polyester, down, wool, or cotton; these are unlikely to contain toxic fire retardants.
EHCC helps early childhood learning environments to be as healthy, safe and green as possible by reducing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.