Green Guide Offers 10 Steps to Reduce Risks
DiCostanzo, The Green Guide Institute
womb acts as a wonderfully protective cushion between the fetus
and the jolts and bumps of the outside world. On the inside, though,
the placenta simply cannot shield the womb from all of the man-made
chemicals that have, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,
collected in our bodies. You can, however, take simple steps to
reduce the risk to your offspring by paying special attention to
what you eat, drink and breathe.
probably already know to avoid alcohol, cigarette smoke, caffeine
and kitty litter. Unfortunately, prenatal exposures to other common
contaminants can affect the fetus during critical windows when vital
systems are developing, says pediatrician Philip Landrigan, M.D.,
director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment
(CCHE) at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Below
are 10 kinds of toxins capable of crossing the placenta and how
to avoid them.
Trim consumption of animal fats
you're pregnant, it's more important than ever to choose lean cuts
of meat, trim away fat and opt for fat-free dairy products. Here's
why: Some toxins linked to prenatal nervous system and hormonal
damage are stored in fatty tissue. These include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), which pose risks of reduced intelligence to the
developing fetus; brominated fire retardants (see Green Guide 106);
dioxins and other pollutants that persist in our air and water.
Put a stop to insecticides in your home and office
are a family of insecticides that attack the nervous system. In
two New York City studies conducted last year, babies of women who
had been most exposed to two organophosphates, chlorpyrifos (Dursban
and Lorsban) and diazinon (Spectracide), had significantly lower
birth weights. Fortunately, these insecticides were phased out of
residential and school use by the EPA in 2001-03. However, other
organophosphates are still in circulation, as are similar compounds
called pyrethroids. Pesticides also release inhalable volatile organic
compounds (see below).
to do instead? Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's
Environmental Health (CCCEH) recommend that pregnant women switch
to sticky traps and other bait stations, "which are safer,
last longer and are more effective," while keeping surfaces
clean of food residue, removing trash and treating cracks with boric
acid, classified by the EPA as of low toxicity, then sealing with
caulk. (Keep boric acid and baits out of the reach of children and
Select foods to minimize pesticide residues
and diazinon (see above), along with many related toxic pesticides,
are still used widely on food crops. Prioritize your grocery list
to allow for the purchase of the following organic fruits and vegetables
that, when conventionally grown, tend to harbor the most pesticide
residue: apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, peaches, pears,
potatoes, spinach, strawberries and peppers.
Pass on high-mercury fish
is a potent neurotoxin that can harm a developing fetus. Say "no"
to high-mercury fish such as fresh tuna, canned albacore, wild bass,
swordfish and tilefish. (One meal of moderate-mercury fish, such
as canned light tuna, can be eaten once a month.) Eat up: low-mercury
"yes" fish such as sardines, wild salmon and farmed striped
bass. For a complete list, download the Green Guide's wallet-sized
Fish Picks Smart Shopper's Card.
Let Old Paint Lie
lead has been banned from gasoline (in 1996) and paint (in 1978),
most exposures now come from old lead-based paint. This heavy metal,
which can also contaminate water and soil, can interfere with nearly
every aspect of fetal development, causing brain and kidney damage,
according to the CCHE. If your old house has lead paint in good
condition, cover it with fresh paint rather than removing it, which
releases lead dust into the air. To test paint for lead, see www.epa.gov/lead/leadinfo.htm#buy
or call the EPA's lead hot line at 800-426-4791.
Make sure your water is safe to drink
local utility must by law provide you with an annual "Right
to Know" report listing the EPA-recognized pollutants that
exist in your water at potentially unsafe levels. Trihalomethanes,
for instance, can increase the risk of miscarriage. See Green Guide
No. 101 for contaminants to avoid and best filters. If you suspect
there's lead in your pipes, allow the tap to run for 30 seconds
to clear them before using water. Find lead-testing services at
Avoid the VOCs that offgas from paints, glues, air fresheners
Toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can evaporate from many
conventional building, decorating and other household products,
including air freshener sprays. Exposure to air fresheners during
pregnancy and within the first six months of life was associated
with diarrhea and earache in infants and headaches and depression
in mothers, according to a study published in the October 2003 Archives
of Environmental Health.
to Do: For a shopping list of no- or low-VOC pressed woods, paint,
stains and varnishes, see Green Guide No. 96. Remember, even when
the safest products are used, pregnant women should stay away during
renovations and until finished rooms are well ventilated.
exposed to fumes at work, speak up: Thirty-two children exposed
in utero to organic solvents had lower scores on language and other
developmental tests, according to a study published in the October
2004 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. In the workplace,
their mothers had come into contact with such solvents as toluene,
xylene, mineral spirits, isopropyl alcohol and trichloroethylene.
See Green Guide No. 92 "Sick at Work?" or contact the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 800-35-NIOSH,
Steer clear of vehicular and smokestack emissions
conducted by Columbia University links "combustion-related"
chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) with shorter
gestation periods for pregnant women, resulting in smaller babies.
PAHs are in car or bus exhaust and emissions from residential heating
and power generation. Before exercising outdoors, check the EPA's
Air Quality Index at epa.gov/airnow. Keep windows closed during
peak traffic hours. For the best air filters, see our Air Purifiers
Stay away from phthalates in vinyl, personal-care and cleaning products
called phthalates, known hormone-system disruptors that have caused
birth defects in lab animals, are widely used as plasticizers in
nail polishes and vinyl and as solvents in synthetic fragrances.
Avoid soft vinyl products and cosmetics containing "Fragrance";
also see lists of phthalate-free cosmetics at nottoopretty.org and
Green Guide No. 94 "Beauty Tips" and Green Guide No. 99
"Soap and Shampoo: Personal Best." See also, "Nail
Products", "Household Cleaning Supplies", "Lip
and Eye Makeup" product reports.
Get rid of those crumbling foam cushions, already!
latest chemicals found to be approaching possibly unsafe levels
in American women's breast milk, as well as umbilical-cord blood,
are fire retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or
PBDEs. Furniture foam tends to release PBDEs into house dust when
it breaks down. For solutions, see Mattresses and Box Springs and
Computers product reports and Green Guide No. 97 "PBDE Fire
Retardant and Health Risks."
Green Guide and www.thegreenguide.com
- published by The Green Guide Institute, an independent media service
- together serve as consumers' go-to source for practical and reliable
green homes tips, product reviews, environmental health reporting
and green living advice. For more information, please visit http://www.thegreenguide.com/about/