Toxic indoor air pollution in your baby's nursery

by Julie Snyder

Air pollution at homeOne of the most exciting activities for expectant parents is planning and setting up your baby's nursery. You spend weeks shopping online for the perfect furniture and bedding. You prepare to transform this abode with paints and decorations carefully chosen to fit a theme.

You envision your wee one snoozing peacefully in the carefully chosen crib with sweet stuffed animals watching from their perch on a nearby shelf. But what poison could be lurking in the air in your home?

The Environmental Protection Agency points to indoor air quality as the fourth greatest pollution threat to Americans; your baby's nursery is no exception.

But since we can't see them and usually don't smell them, it's hard to imagine these chemicals could harm your tiny child.

Babies face the greatest risk from environmental pollution. They breathe more often. Since they're right down at floor level, they ingest more contaminants, too.

Indoor air pollution in the nursery

"Good Morning America" set out to investigate exactly what kind of threat indoor air pollution poses as your outfit your baby's nursery. With the help of Greenguard Environmental Institute, part of Underwriters Laboratories, they set up a room with a new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations. Then they tested the indoor air quality for seven days.

The results

The indoor air in the new nursery contained 300 different chemicals. A test of the air just outside the home revealed only two chemicals.

Most of us know that indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air. But 300 different chemicals! Where did they come from?

• The new crib mattress emitted more than 100 different chemicals, including industrial solvents and alcohols.
• The new furniture shared formaldehyde fumes, a chemical identified as causing cancer.
• The paint in the nursery off-gassed chemicals five times the California's recommended limit.
• The rocker contained seven times the recommended levels of formaldehyde.

What concerned me most -- not one of these baby products violated any law. Armed with that information and knowing that parents have a strong desire to protect their children, I looked for ways to greatly reduce the amount of indoor pollution in your baby's nursery.

Reduce baby's exposure to harmful chemicals

Use "healthy" paint

Finding healthy paint can challenge the best sleuth. Many paints claim to be low-VOC, but the levels are measured in the paint's base, without pigments or coloring included. Pigments are a major source of VOCs in paint. Look for Green Seal–certified paints, which are required to meet the strictest indoor-air-quality standards in the United States.

Buy used furniture

Buying used cuts down on formaldehyde. It's emitted by both furniture finishes and glues. Most formaldehyde resins "set" after five years. After that, the levels of exposure are much lower than what your baby would be exposed to with new furniture. And a bonus -- it's cheap! Don't forget to check for recalls before you purchase.

Go for organic bedding

Use your savings to buy a good organic baby mattress and organic cotton sheets. The finishes used on traditional bedding can contain formaldehyde. Standard mattresses have the added burden of being treated with toxic flame retardants, implicated in breathing and behavior problems.

Avoid pressed wood or particleboard furniture

If you buy new furniture, look for solid-wood options. They may use finishes that emit formaldehyde, but you can unwrap and air out the furniture for a week or more in your garage or outdoor storage building before installing it in the nursery. Don't have access? Consider renting a storage unit. Yes, it is that important.

Sneaky sources of chemicals

You've got a healthy nest for your babe. Your next challenge is keeping it that way. Plastics, cleaning products and baby personal care products may also contain harmful chemicals, such as VOCs, BPAs or phthalates. Some of these interfere with hormonal development and cause learning disabilities.

✓ Make your own healthy cleaning products
✓ Phthalates hide in synthetic fragrances so buy unscented if you need a commercial cleaner
✓ Avoid vinyl wraps on mattresses and changing table pads,
✓ Use natural fibers or solid wood instead of plastics whenever you can

Until the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Juvenile Manufacturers Product Association catch up, it's up to expectant parents to take charge and insure the safest environment possible for your child. A nursery should be a safe haven -- not the equivalent of a toxic dump.

Were you surprised at "Good Morning America's" findings? How are you preparing your little one's nursery to reduce their pollutant exposure?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.