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4 Common Chemicals You Didn't Know Your Kids Were Exposed To

Photograph by Twenty20

Any good parent strives, above all else, to keep their children safe. Obviously, you’re not going to let your 2-year-old play with the lawnmower or go swimming alone in Grandma’s hot tub. I don’t want to say that keeping children safe is easy by any means, but some dangers in our world are more obvious than others.

Chemicals are NOT one of those. Tons of chemicals that are unsafe for children are found in many everyday products, and many parents are exposing them without realizing it. These four in particular are the most common offenders:


BPA stands for bisphenol A, a common ingredient in certain plastics. Around 2008, studies were conducted on animals where scientists monitored changes in their brains, hormones and hearts. Many of these studies seemed to indicate that infants and young children were especially vulnerable to BPA because they lack the ability to completely flush their systems. Scientists were particularly worried about the chemical’s effect on the developing brain and children’s behavior.

Luckily, in the wake of these findings, companies began to produce BPA-free baby bottles, sip cups and other items that children come in contact with. However, BPA is still present in the lining of food cans and water bottles, so it’s best to use refillable water bottles made of stainless steel. Also, avoid heating food in plastic containers as it causes more leaching of the BPA into the food.


Recently, we had a sewer back up in our condo building. The main line to the street was blocked and sewer water came up through some drains on the bottom floor. It didn’t smell, and we thought we could dry out the carpets with some fans and rent a carpet steamer if needed.

However, the plumber set us straight—when there’s sewer water, there’s disease and bacteria. Even a small overflow or backup can bring life-threatening organisms into your home. Diseases like salmonella, gastroenteritis, hepatitis and even parasites like hookworms and tape worms can ride the wave up the drain. These are especially dangerous for young children, whose small bodies may not be able to fight off a serious infection.

When there’s any amount of sewer water in your home, it's imperative that you hire a professional to come in for the cleanup. Not only that, preventing mold from growing in walls and baseboards should be a high priority.

Most parents have never heard of many of these chemicals, much less know how to avoid them.


Phthalates are a family of chemicals that appear in numerous products we use every day: raincoats, lotions, shampoos, toys, cars, and plastic bottles and containers. They're similar to BPA in that we are exposed to them constantly and there are a few troubling studies linking them to problems, especially in children.

Studies in animals suggest “a potential for phthalates to impact birth outcomes, including gestational age and birth weight, fertility (lower sperm production) and anatomical abnormalities related to the male genitalia," says Maida Galvez, the director of the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. "Human studies are now looking at the relationship between phthalates and asthma. There are also studies examining whether phthalates influence the timing of puberty or the risk for childhood obesity."

The best way to limit your child’s exposure to phthalates is to avoid using products on them that contain these chemicals. Sometimes the labels of products are not clear, so the best way to be sure is to check with the manufacturer, or use this handy database to research products. Since the release of the studies, more and more products are now being marketed as phthalate-free, so keep an eye out.


Parents probably already know that arsenic is poisonous, but may not be aware that arsenic was once a major ingredient in chromatid copper arsenate (also known as CCA), a pesticide/preservative used to prevent rotting in pressure-treated lumber. It can transfer by touch as kids put their hands on the wood and then in their mouths. This lumber was used to build everything from picnic tables to playsets to entire playgrounds. Older structures, in particular, are ones to watch out for; new pressure-treated lumber no longer contains arsenic.

According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, “In March 2003, the EPA finalized a voluntary agreement with preservative manufacturers to ban the production of CCA-treated wood for most residential uses as of December 31, 2003. However, the ban does not prohibit the sale of CCA-treated wood produced prior to December 31, 2003, nor does the measure address existing structures.”

So, if a wooden playground or a picnic table seems more than 10 years old, it may be best to avoid it outright. At least have your children wash their hands after playing.

We may not be able to protect our kids from everything, but a little research goes a long way toward keeping our them safe from these smaller, unseen hazards in the same way we would protect them from speeding cars and railroad tracks.

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