Making Sure your Baby’s Room is Truly Green
By Heather Cameron
Car seat? Check.
Baby gates? Check.
Electrical outlet safety covers? Double check.
So, think you have done everything possible to keep your new baby safe? You might want to think again. Sometimes it is what we don’t see that can cause our little ones harm. One area that parents often don’t think about when preparing for their new addition is the environmental safety of their baby’s nursery. Children spend a good deal of time sleeping in their bedrooms – more than adults, most parents would agree, so you want to make sure that they are sleeping safely. Yes, there is a strong crib, perfectly assembled, with a nice new mattress. But have you ever considered what off-gases might be generated
by it? Polybrominated diphyenyl ethers (PBDEs) are sometimes used as flame retardants on mattresses. They seep into the air we breathe and enter our bloodstream through our lungs. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have gotten a little more notoriety these days thanks to the number of paint companies currently offering VOC-free products. But many paints still contain VOCs, as do glues and man-made wood products such as particle board, plywood and pressed veneers.
While it can be next to impossible to avoid any off-gassing, there are some ways to cut down on the amount of harmful chemicals in your little one’s bedroom.
Go for quality
Much of today’s inexpensive baby furniture has the potential to off-gas a chemical concoction in a baby’s room. They are usually made with pressed wood or plywood, which can often contain formaldehyde. This is a colourless gas that can emit toxins in the air and can cause burning in the eyes, set off asthma attacks, and could have links to cancer. Look for furniture that is labeled formaldehyde-free or VOC-free.
Another option is to go for more expensive, quality furniture. Solid wood will not only stand up better to the wear and tear of children, it has less chance of being loaded with VOCs. Just make sure that the eco-safety of the solid wood furniture hasn’t been compromised with a toxic glue, stain or paint finish.
One of the best ways to avoid excessive off-gassing is to go second-hand. Borrow from family or friends, purchase online or check out consignment stores. Babies hit so many stages in their young lives, most of their items tend to be gently used and are in great shape for second-hand use. Some of the off-gassing has already occurred in second-hand items and you get the added benefit of saving a bit of money by not buying new. But keep in mind that a few items are best bought new-to-you.
It has been suggested that second-hand mattresses may have some links to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and car seats should be purchased new in case they may have sustained damage that is not noticeable to the naked eye.
Look at the label
Find out what lies in your baby’s mattress before they lie on it. Some PBDEs, which are used as flame retardants, have been linked with hyperactivity and neurobehavioural modifications. Forgo mattresses made with any of the following:
• Flame retardants, including PBDEs, phosphorous, antimony and arsenic.
• PVC plastic, often used in plastic covers.
• Polyurethane, as found in foam filling.
While Canada has officially classified PBDEs as toxic — and most major mattress retailers in Canada carry retardant-free mattresses – always check first. Keep in mind that the current approach to fire-retardants in Canada and the United States is different. According to the Labour Environmental Alliance Society, most suppliers of foam for bedding and upholstered furniture do not use fire retardant chemicals for products intended specifically for the Canadian market.
Mattresses made of organic wool, organic cotton, or natural latex with an organic wool cover, are best. The advantages of wool are wonderful. It’s naturally flame retardant and mildew resistant.
Go light and airy
Go lightly when it comes to picking your paint. Low-VOC – or better yet, no-VOC –latex paints are great choices. And the lighter the better. Lighter shades contain less pigment, so they generally contain less VOCs. Even if it is a no-VOC paint, don’t have a pregnant mom paint the room – no exposure is the best way for her to go. If possible, paint with fans on and windows open and be sure to paint the room at least a month in advance of its new occupant’s arrival so the baby isn’t taking in fresh paint fumes and whatever they might contain.
In her book Green for Life, Gillian Deacon suggests milk paint as a natural paint alternative. While it is harder to apply, takes longer to dry and requires a few more coats, it is a solvent, preservative and biocide free way to brighten up your child’s room, she notes.
Warm, soft and less expensive than some of the other flooring options out there, carpet comes first in many Canadian bedrooms. But synthetic carpets can off-gas a crazy amount of chemicals, as well as harbour dust and airborne pollutants coming from inside and outside the house. If carpet is a must, go with 100 per cent wool – which happens to wear very well and is fire and flame resistant – when the budget allows. Choose a wool that has a jute backing or has its backing sewn on in order to avoid harmful glues. If wood flooring is more to your liking, look for glue-free floating floors or flooring that is attached with nails instead of glue. And, of course, ask for a low-VOC finish on your wood floors. You may also want to consider bamboo or cork flooring, as long as their sealants or glues are non-existent or low-VOC.
We often think of cotton as an all-natural material, and it can be, when grown properly. Between chemical pesticides and fertilizer, cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops on our plant. And yes, those chemicals can make it into the lovely baby bunting bag you purchased for your little one, unless you look specifically for organically grown cotton. And while you have cottoned on to the benefits of organic cotton, be sure to look for products that have been coloured with low-impact dyes. Bamboo and hemp fabrics are also great natural alternatives.
Whatever your budget and circumstances allow, keep in mind that whatever you do – big or small – to create a more environmentally friendly nursery is not only good for your new baby but good for your entire family.
What is off-gassing?
Off-gassing is when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and volatile compounds evaporate. Paints, stains, plywood, particleboard, carpeting etcetera, can off-gas for years under normal atmospheric pressure. There are plenty of green-home books out there. A couple of great ones include:
Green for Life – 200 Eco Ideas for Everyday
Sara Snow’s Fresh Living