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Could the products you use and the foods you eat be exposing you and your family to health risks? Too much contact with certain chemicals in household cleaners, some plastics and foods can cause harm to a fetus, ranging from developmental defects such as autism to brain and nervous system damage, even cancer. These chemicals cross the placenta and are carried through the umbilical cord, affecting the fragile, developing fetus. Here are some easy, safe alternatives to protect all of you.
The dirt on household products
All-purpose, glass and cabinet cleaners
Potential harm These products often contain toxic chemicals such as ammonia. "That's the stuff in smelling salts; it can make an unconscious person conscious," says Mark Woodin, Sc.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Tufts University School of Medicine and professor of environmental health at Tufts University School of Engineering in Boston. "A chemical that powerful may have the potential to cause birth defects in a fetus."
Alternatives Use nontoxic cleaners such as Vermont Soapworks Liquid Sunshine Spray & Wipe (vermontsoap.com), Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner (seventhgeneration.com), Howard Naturals Kitchen Cabinet Cleaner & Polish (howardnaturals.com) and Sun &Earth Glass Cleaner (sunandearth.com).
Drain and oven cleaners
Potential harm The ingredients (such as lye and sulfuric acid) that unclog drains and banish baked-on grease from your oven emit dangerous fumes that, if misused, can cause burns and blindness. Allowing these powerful chemicals to enter the body through the skin or via inhalation is harmful; swallowing them can be fatal.
Alternatives To unclog sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Let the mixture bubble for 15 minutes, then let hot water run for one to two minutes. To clean the oven, apply a paste made from 1 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup washing soda (available in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets) and water (experiment with the amount of water needed to make a paste) and soak overnight. Lift off the mixture the next day and rinse. Or, try Method Grapefruit Mandarin Kitchen Spray (methodhome.com) or Seventh Generation Natural Citrus Cleaner and Degreaser (seventhgeneration.com).
Floor finishes, varnish removers and paint thinners
Potential harm Most of these products contain toxic solvents that can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also found in these products can cause nervous system damage and cancer, among other negative health consequences. Animal studies show that the solvent toluene readily crosses the placenta and that if a pregnant woman inhales organic (carbon-based) solvents, many of which are carcinogens, her baby may experience developmental delays. "Pregnant women should not be in the house when solvents are being used," Woodin says.
Alternatives Put off remodeling projects or make sure you're out of the house during the construction and for several days after it's complete. Seek out products that carry the Green Seal; awarded by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization of the same name, it signifies that a product is safe and environmentally friendly.
Pesticides and weed killers
Potential harm Some human studies show a link between pesticide exposure during pregnancy and childhood cancer, although other studies have not confirmed that suggestion. Animal studies have shown low birth weight and higher rates of fetal loss only when the pesticide exposure was high enough to be poisonous to the mother animal; mixing and applying these products yourself seems to pose more risk than low-level or indirect exposure. It's probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid them entirely.
Alternatives Manage insects and other pests with nontoxic methods, including natural pest-control products (go to fitpregnancy.com/greenresources for information). Spray full-strength white vinegar on weeds to kill them.
Mold & mildew removers
Potential harm Mold--the black spots lurking on your shower curtain or growing between your bathroom tiles--is a fungus. (Mildew and mold are interchangeable terms.) Fungicide-containing cleaners can be harmful to humans, affecting the central nervous system and causing respiratory problems, light-headedness and eye irritation.
Alternatives Wipe mildew spots with a vinegar-soaked cloth, or spray vinegar on the spot and let it sit for a few minutes. If the mildew leaves a stain, wipe the area clean with a little hydrogen peroxide.