Furnishing the Nursery

There's more to getting the nursery ready choosing a pink or blue color scheme. Just like furniture for grown-ups, new baby furniture can give off icky vapors (page 13) like formaldehyde, which can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and may cause coughing or wheezing and allergic reactions such as hives. In the late '80s, the U.S. EPA classified formaldehyde as a probable carcinogen when people are exposed to large amounts or for a long time. That's more exposure than your baby is likely to get in the nursery, but why take chances?

Where does formaldehyde lurk? Mostly in pressed-wood products made with adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. That includes particle board, plywood, or fiberboard; plywood paneling; and medium-density fiberboard, which often gets used for cabinets and drawer fronts.

Another group of chemicals you want to avoid are the fire retardants PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). They're added to many foam and plastic items, and when such products are made, the PBDEs don't bind chemically with the plastic, so they leach out into the environment. According to U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmental and consumer advocacy organization, exposure to the specific PBDE Deca-BDE can have all kinds of nasty effects including brain and liver damage, problems with reproductive-system development, and impaired thyroid function.

That's scary stuff, so of course you want to avoid exposing your kiddo to PBDEs. They might be in common items like mattresses, textiles, and carpets. But even if you keep the nursery PBDE-free, you're not totally out of the woods. That's because PBDEs are stored in the body's fat and accumulate in breast milk, so if Mom gets exposed to these dangerous chemicals, she could unwittingly pass them on to her baby at feeding time. Outside the nursery, you might find them in things like computer and TV casings.

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group published a study that found the average American toddler's blood contains three times as much Deca-BDE than his mother's. That's not good. Fortunately, the European Union and several U.S. states have banned certain kinds of PBDEs, and a number of companies—including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Panasonic, and Phillips—have stopped using them. But many products still contain these chemicals, including Deca-BDE, which has been specifically excluded from some bans.

As if that wasn't enough to worry about, you should take steps to prevent every parent's worst nightmare: SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

While scientists don't know exactly what causes it, some studies have found a possible link between SIDS and the toxic fumes released by mattresses. One theory is that fungi, which occur naturally in the mattress, react with chemicals used to treat the mattress and produce toxic gases. To protect your baby, wrap the mattress in polyethylene sheeting (see the following list for details) to create a barrier and seal the gases inside. Although these studies remain controversial, it's important to know that foam mattresses may pose a danger to your baby.

When you're decorating the nursery, use this list to choose safe, healthy products, so you and baby can both sleep soundly:

• Buy used furniture. Furniture that's not brand-new has already done most of its off-gassing of any formaldehyde and other VOCs (page 12) used in its manufacture. Cribs and cradles, high chairs, playpens— most baby furniture is a good candidate for a secondhand purchase or hand-me-down.

■■ Don't buy a used mattress for your baby's bed or reuse an old mattress for a new ^^ baby. A study conducted in Scotland between 1996 and 2000 found that "Routine use of an infant mattress previously used by another child was significantly associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome."

• Go organic. Look for a crib mattress made from organic cotton, without toxic flame retardants or other chemicals. Same goes for pillows, sheets, and blankets—choose organic over synthetic and nonorganic fibers, and insist on no toxic chemicals.

^ The nonprofit Greenguard Environmental Institute certifies products that don't off-gas harmful chemicals—including bedding. You can find Greenguard-certified mattresses and mattress pads (as well as lots of other stuff) by going to www. greenguard.org and clicking the Find Products link.

• Wrap baby's mattress. To be extra-sure that your baby isn't inhaling toxic fumes from her mattress, wrap the mattress with a sheet of polyethylene that's at least 5 mm thick, which you can buy at hardware and garden centers. Be sure you get polyethylene, not vinyl (which gives off fumes of its own), and choose clear sheeting, not the colored kind. Wrap the mattress and seal it on the bottom with duct tape. Make the top and sides airtight, but not the bottom (the gas needs to escape, but you want it to do so away from your baby). This also makes the mattress waterproof, inhibiting the growth of mold and fungus.

• Ventilate. The nursery should have good ventilation. A constant supply of fresh air keeps VOCs from building up.

• Use low-VOC paints. For nursery walls and baby furniture, choose low- or no-odor paints (page 137) that give off as few VOCs as possible (page 12).

• Select natural flooring. Make sure that the pitter-patter of little feet happens on floors made from natural materials (page 135). And choose organic wool or cotton rugs and carpets.

• Don't smoke. Okay, so this tip applies everywhere, not just in the nursery. As you're no doubt aware, cigarette smoke is full of bad stuff: nicotine, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, phenol, tar, and about 4,000 other chemicals. So don't let anyone smoke in the nursery—or anywhere around your baby's growing lungs.

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