Creating a Healthy Bedroom Environment
For years, we've been raised on the saying "Your home is your castle." The concept of "home" is immediately connected with a safe haven, a shield, a shelter to protect us and our kids from external threats and deadly hazards.
In fact, the modern home might be an extremely dangerous arena, especially for our youth. Their private rooms could be a source of toxic pollutants and other hazards that threaten their well-being and health.
What You Can't See
Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, an associate professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University, says that most American parents are not aware of indoor hazards in their children's rooms. "Even among parents of asthmatic or allergic children, there is very little awareness to indoors environment," he says. "Just a minority of these parents undertake active precautions like removing stuffed toys, carpets and other dust catchers."
Dr. Paulson, who is also co-director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment, recalls the case of Sarah, a 9-year-old from Alexandria, Va., who loved stuffed animals. She had them on her bed and on shelves in her room. She also had a history of asthma and experienced three attacks in the last year, including one where she had to go the emergency room. She had some coughing every night that disturbed her sleep. Sarah went to an allergist, and testing showed that she was allergic to dust mites. Dust mites live in bedding, carpet, upholstered furniture and stuffed animals.
"No matter how well someone cleans there will be dust mites present in the home, unless the humidity is less than 50 percent," Dr. Paulson says. "Dust mites are a source of allergens that can cause allergic or asthmatic symptoms in sensitive kids."
Dr. Paulson is also concerned about what may seem trivial: the room's paint. "In the U.S., homes built before 1978 may have lead paint on indoor surfaces, and homes built before about 1950 certainly have lead paint on interior surfaces," he says. "Microscopic degradation and deterioration of that paint creates lead dust that can cause severe neurological problems and learning difficulties in children, but how many parents are aware [of] this hazard? Very little."
What You Can See
Awareness is undoubtedly the most important part of creating a clean, healthy living space for your child. Kids tend to spend over 70 percent of their time indoors, especially in winter, and it is pretty tough to admit that our beloved homes might undermine or challenge their optimal health. It takes serious action to fix the problems. Fortunately, you can find some creative solutions that make this process easier.
What could be more innocent than a child's toy? Unfortunately, it appears that toxic fumes and tastes pervade this industry. Diisonyl phthalate (DINP) is a material used in the production of children's toys. It gives them softness and pliability. However, there is some convincing data that shows this substance to be highly toxic to the human endocrine system. Apparently, DINP can dangerously leach out of plastic toys, particularly in the case of mouthing toys. Several European countries have already banned DINP in toys designed for children less than 3 years old. Prudent parents can look for phthalate-free items when purchasing new toys.
One famous scientific research project from New Zealand found a positive correlation between crib deaths (SIDS) and certain PVC baby mattresses. Fire retardants such as phosphorus, arsenic and antimony – added in the production of baby mattresses – interact with fungi that commonly grows in newborn baby bedding. This interaction creates some highly lethal gases. High room temperatures may activate fungi in the mattress and accelerate this lethal process.
Therefore, avoid overloading your baby with blankets or excessive clothing. Mattresses wrapped in a special polyethylene cover can block body fluids (saliva and urine) from reaching the mattress and establishing fungi.
Computers, Printers and Electro Magnetic Fields
For several years, there has been controversy concerning electro magnetic fields (EMF) and their effects on health. Some clinical studies connect this type of radiation with a suppressed immune system, hormonal imbalances and disruptions of other biological systems. There is also evidence that associates EMF with leukemia in small children.
EMF is always immediately associated with CRT computer monitors. The new models are designed to emit low radiation, and fortunately, radiation only comes out of the back and sides of the monitor. Thus, it is recommended to place the monitor with its back to the wall. If you want to take further precautions, put a little more distance between the chair and the source, since the amount of radiation falls off exponentially with increased distance.
A brand new computer monitor may make your child sick by emitting a flame retardant chemical called triphenyl phosphate (TP). This chemical can trigger allergy symptoms when inhaled. The TP used on computer monitors gets into the air as the computer terminal heats up with use. Levels begin to drop after a week or two of continuous use. The best way to minimize the hazards of TP is to turn on a new computer monitor and leave it on for several days in a well ventilated room before letting your children use it.
Toners for laser printers contain chemicals such as carbon black and resins that have the potential to harm at high concentration. Prolonged exposure to toner powder causes irritation of the eyes and the upper respiratory system. When handling toner cartridges, always advise your child to use disposable gloves to avoid skin contact with chemicals. Good ventilation is also important. The best protection is to advise your child to leave the toner to Mom or Dad.
Surprisingly, old is better than new when it comes to furniture. New furniture could emit formaldehyde (in gaseous form). In small amounts, this toxic chemical can irritate your child's eyes, skin and throat, and it can cause nausea and lethargy.
In high concentrations and through long-term exposure, formaldehyde is a deadly carcinogenic substance. Formaldehyde and other toxic glues are ubiquitous in the production of hardwood, plywood, furniture and other pressed-wood products.
Leakage of formaldehyde from new furniture is preventable by varnishing, painting and sealing the furniture with a waterproof finish such as polyurethane. Formaldehyde can be smelled in high concentrations. If you suspect your child's room is polluted by these fumes, improve ventilation and place lots of potted spider plants around the room. A NASA report once showed that spider plants are capable of absorbing gaseous formaldehyde.
Carpets are a leading source of dust mites. Every time someone walks over the carpet in your child's room, dust mites are spread into the air, polluting it with allergens. However, this is only a small fraction of the problem.
New carpet fumes add to the toxic load. If possible, leave new carpeting to set out in strong sunlight for a few days. Also, have carpets installed in the summer, leaving all windows open for ventilation. These procedures will significantly reduce their toxicity.
Tile and hardwood floors are the best choices for healthy kids' rooms, especially if your child suffers from respiratory problems. Wall-to-wall carpets cannot be cleaned adequately, although steaming carpets thoroughly may be somewhat helpful.
Now that you know the trouble spots, stroll through your child's room to pinpoint the risk factors in your home. For each trouble spot, this article has provided some practical, "green" advice, useful tips and alternative techniques to foster children's health. After all, a healthy, robust body is your child's real castle.