We are increasingly aware that many of the clothes, toys and baby items that may look super cute on the outside, may in fact be surprisingly dangerous - considering the harmful chemicals they often contain. Aida Garcia-Toledo, non-toxic living expert behind Non-Toxic Munchkin, helps and empowers parents to make lifestyle changes that lead to healthier everyday choices while not compromising on style.
By Meri Frig
What are the most harmful ingredients to avoid in children’s products? Where are they common?
First, lead. Experts agree that there are no safe levels of lead. Even very low blood lead levels can cause behavioral problems and lower IQ, nervous system damage and behavioral changes. Academic achievement and the ability to pay attention are all affected by lead exposure. The effects of lead exposure cannot be reversed or corrected. Lead can be found in toys, face paints, art supplies, older homes with old paint, water supply that goes through old water pipes. Lead has recently been found in 20 percent of baby food samples (especially fruit juice)
Second, flame retardant chemicals have been linked to cancer, infertility, obesity, lowered IQ and learning problems, and other diseases and disorders. In the US these are always found in: loose fitting pajamas, upholstered furniture, car seats, any toy or baby gear that made of polyurethane foam (in Europe regulations are different so flame retardant chemicals are not as ubiquitous). For perspective, flame retardant chemicals have been found in the umbilical cord blood of 100% of American babies born today.
Third, BPA and similar chemicals are endocrine disrupting chemicals - this means that they imitate hormones in our bodies. Even at very low doses, BPA exposure has been linked to a number of health effects, including breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, lowered sperm count, infertility, miscarriage, obesity, behavioral problems and diabetes. These chemicals are found in polycarbonate plastics and are used for lots of things, including food storage containers, baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, as well as some toys. BPA can also be found in food and beverage canned linings and in thermal store receipts.
Phthalates are also endocrine disrupting (hormone mimicking) chemicals that can disrupt male hormones, like testosterone, and have been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys and learning and behaviour problems in older children. Prenatal exposure to phthalates has been found to lead to “abnormal development and function of the brain and reproductive system.”
"During these periods of massive changes in the body, harmful chemicals can take advantage and make a lasting (and negative) impression on our health and can wreak havoc in our bodies and the bodies of our developing or young children."
It is usually found in soft squeezable plastic toys, especially those made for bath time, but are also usually found in any product (cleaning, personal care, etc.) that contain ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ as an ingredient. Finally, phthalates migrate into food products during processing, packaging, and preparation. They are attracted to fatty tissue and are found more in processed foods, fatty food. Today, this is the main mean of exposure to phthalates.
Phthalates tend to be found in very small amounts in any given product, the problem is that they are found in many many different products that we are exposed to on a daily basis and so these “tiny levels” of phthalates add up quickly - this is where their danger lies.
"Our motto is “It is not a diet. It is not a detox. It is a way of life.” That is the goal when you set out to create a non-toxic home."
What should be considered, first and foremost, when creating a non-toxic home?
I think the most important thing is not to get overwhelmed. There is so much information on so many chemicals that it is very easy to get overwhelmed and give up. Here at Non-Toxic Munchkin, our motto is “It is not a diet. It is not a detox. It is a way of life.” That is the goal when you set out to create a non-toxic home. Take your time making changes that you can stick to over time. Baby steps.
Having said that, I recommend first focusing on new habits that you can incorporate into your daily routine that can give you a ‘big bang for your buck’ by drastically reducing your exposure to chemicals every single day - and that are free. Opening windows, dusting often, taking shoes off upon entering your home, not microwaving plastics.
Moving on, focus on items that you and your family use on a daily basis (or multiple times a day) and switch these out slowly. This can include: body washes, diaper cream, shampoo, toothpaste, mattresses, cooking utensils used daily (i.e. pots and pans), baby bottles, toys likely to be placed in baby’s mouth, and so forth.
You have mentioned we are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals during specific periods in our lives – what are these?
Yes. Scientists have pinpointed certain periods in life, known as “Windows of susceptibility” during which an individual is particularly sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of harmful chemicals. These include:
- during fetal development and the neonatal period
- pre-pubertal and pubertal stages
- pregnancy and lactation
The one thing these periods in life have in common is that they are periods of growth, development and hormonal changes. During these periods of massive changes in the body, harmful chemicals can take advantage and make a lasting (and negative) impression on our health and can wreak havoc in our bodies and the bodies of our developing or young children.
What would be some great gift ideas for little ones?
Generally speaking, the best and safest gifts will be made of natural materials, like wood, bamboo, organic cotton, natural rubber etc. Luckily, for parents today there are many wonderful gift options in safe non-toxic materials for children of all ages.
For babies, I like Sarah and Hendrix Toys, Baby Quoddle feeding bottles, Hevea, Dock A Tot, and Little Unicorn Swaddles. For older kids, Opposite of Far dress up, Nobodinoz Wooden Ice Cream Play Set, EcoBricks, PANI PIESKA dolls, as well as Mani and Simon cars.