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Thursday, June 24, 2004 05:53 am

Earth Talk 6-24-04

Dear Earth Talk: How can I reduce the number and amount of toxins my new baby is exposed to?

-- Beth Stevenson, Leesburg, Va.

Because babies are so much smaller and their metabolisms so much faster than those of adults, proportionally they are exposed to higher doses of toxins from everyday foods and consumer products. And because babies' organs and immune systems aren't fully developed, those toxins can have a profound impact, affecting growth and future health, according to the Princeton, N.J.-based Children's Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC). "Since World War II," warns CHEC, "we have developed more than 80,000 chemicals for use in cleaners, pesticides, plastics, personal-care products, industrial products, and other conveniences. We know very little about the effect of these chemicals on a child's development." Fortunately for new parents, there is an expanding universe of organic and all-natural products, so you can minimize your baby's exposure to potentially damaging chemicals.

Feeding your baby organic food means he or she will avoid the heavy-duty pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that are sprayed onto or absorbed into conventionally grown foods. Companies such as Earth's Best Organic Baby Food provide parents with a variety of prepackaged organic baby foods. Parents interested in an even more back-to-basics approach can get assistance in the form of books, supplies, and tips from Fresh Baby. The company's Fresh Start Kit ($34.95) includes everything a parent needs -- instructions, recipes, and materials -- to produce fresh, healthy, homemade baby food. Another eco-benefit: "By feeding children with all-natural alternatives, families don't use and toss scores of baby-food jars," says company spokeswoman Christina Kerley.

Because babies spend so much time sleeping, toxins in their cribs, mattresses, and bedding are also a concern. Lifekind makes crib mattresses ($279.99 to $379.99) that combine organic cotton with wool (which acts as a natural flame retardant) to prevent tender lungs from inhaling plastic and chemical fumes. For even sweeter dreams, bedding made from 100 percent cotton -- without permanent-press and flame-retardant substances -- is the least toxic alternative.

Last, parents should shun soft-plastic and vinyl baby toys. Manufacturers often add chemicals called phthalates to plastic toys as a softener. This chemical can leach from the plastic and -- because toddlers tend to put objects in their mouths -- expose young children to a substance that has been linked to cancer and reproductive harm. For this reason, the use of phthalates in baby and children's toys has been outlawed in 15 European countries and Japan. Hard-plastic toys or, better yet, wooden playthings coated with water-based lacquer are smarter purchases. You can find them at Natural Play or your local toy store.

For more information: Earth's Best Baby Food, 800-434-4246, www.earthsbest.com; Fresh Baby, 866-403-7374, www.myfreshbaby.com; Children's Health Environmental Coalition, 609-252-1915, www.checnet.org; Lifekind, 800-284-4983, www.lifekind.com; Natural Play, 608-637-3989, www.naturalplay.com.

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