What parents don’t want a bright, cheerful space on which their small children to explore and play?  As long as the area is clean and safe, affordable furnishings, toys, and accessories are plentiful and varied, making it easy for parents to adorn their children’s surroundings in a stimulating, inviting way.  A recent article, ”Phthalates in Floors Can Make You and Your Children Sick,” on the world’s #1 natural health website, Mercola.com, by Dr. Joseph Mercola asserts that parents unknowingly expose their young ones to materials in the environment that may pose serious health risks for their children.

One of the last things that a parent might think would pose a health threat is the floor.  It makes perfect sense; young children spend a lot of time on the floor—crawling, walking, playing, etc.  “As they crawl, their hands (that will later end up in their mouths) sweep across the surface, and their faces are in close proximity to the material itself, and emissions that have accumulated in household dust.”

Dr. Mercola writes that soft, flexible plastic flooring—including vinyl and padded play-mat floors that are often found in daycare centers and kindergarten classrooms.  This plastic flooring probably was made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.  PVC contains phthalates, a group of industrial chemicals that make PVC flexible yet sturdy.  However, a recent study by researchers in Sweden showed that babies who had PVC flooring on their bedroom floors had higher levels of phthalates in their urine.

Phthalates have been found in increasing levels in household dust as well, and increased levels have been “linked to chronic health conditions like allergies and asthma.  One study also found that infants who lived in bedrooms with vinyl floors were twice as likely to have autism as infants with wood flooring.”  Even more disturbing is that these substances have been found in the children’s toys, utensils, and equipment.  Mercola asserts that newborn babies may be most at risk because of the plastic medical equipment that is used during their hospital stays.

Dr.Mercola suggests the following to help lower your family’s exposure to plasticizing chemicals:

  1. Choose toys made from natural materials (or at least only buying those made from phthalate-free plastic).
  2. When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  3. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric or better yet install glass shower doors.
  4. Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
  5. Check your home’s tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary. You may also want to use an alternative to PVC pipes for your water supply.
  6. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, scented candles or other synthetic fragrances and perfumes.
  7. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
  8. Avoid processed foods (many are packaged in phthalate-containing packaging) and instead focus your diet on fresh, organic and locally grown whole foods.
  9. Breastfeed your baby exclusively if possible, for at least the first six months (as you will avoid phthalates exposure from infant formula packaging and plastic bottles/nipples).
  10. If you use baby bottles, use glass, not plastic.
  11. Use only natural cleaning products in your home.
  12. Teach your children not to drink water from the garden hose, as many are made with phthalate-containing plastics.