05/30/2008 04:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Cosmetics and Chemicals Hurting Babies?

Several of my friends are having babies and since our firm does eco-friendly nurseries, they are asking us how to make it safe for their newborns. They are focused on organic bedding and baby food, but they forget that recent news story that indicates that unborn babies are being exposed to chemicals in-vitro. What is the logic of focusing on organic bedding and baby food, when you forget to protect the mother against chemicals in the environment?

Governmental Studies

A study completed in 2005 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had some effect on governmental studies and policies. But with the publication of the journal Pediatrics (Feb. 2008), the medical establishment has raised its head to refocus concern about this issue -- chemicals in cosmetics and packaging may cause reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girls.

Few people know that in 2005 the Environmental Working Group tested 10 samples of umbilical cord blood taken by the American Red Cross. Unborn babies had an average of 287 contaminants in their cord blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, phtalates and Teflon's PFOA chemical. It should be known that of the 287 chemicals detected, there were 180 that cause cancer. This report coincided with a governmental report by the GAO that stated the EPA, "...only rarely assesses chemicals already on the market".

Says New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, "Today's chemicals are being used to make baby bottles, food packaging and other products [cosmetics] that have never been fully evaluated for their health effects on children - and these chemicals are turning up in their blood."

Common Products Pass Chemicals to Babies

Phtalates (pronounced 'thay-laytes') are a particular concern because they are everywhere -- baby bottles, cosmetics (shampoos/lotions/powders), pliable plastics such as shower curtains, and some teething toys. Given the concentration, it appears that the concentration of phtalates is higher among babies under 8 months.

Think about it this way: babies spend at least 10-12 hours a day sleeping on their bedding. The last thing they need is exposure to toxic chemicals. A baby's detoxification system is developing and their growth is rapid, which means that cells are quickly dividing. Thus, a baby is more susceptible to chemical exposure than an adult.

Setting Up a Nursery

It is highly recommended among eco-healthy designers that baby nurseries utilize organic bedding of either cotton or bamboo -- and all bedding should be free of dyes (unless organic), fire retardants and other harmful chemicals. And it is also important to consider using low-VOC paint and natural tung oil versus synthetic polishes for your flooring. Most important is avoiding vinyl flooring products and furniture glued with adhesives containing formaldehyde.