An Eco-Nursery for Your Baby

Give your baby her best foot forward with an eco-nursery that's natural and nontoxic.

| September/October 1999


Natural toys and tiny togs are earth-wise and eco-friendly.

When Marianne Schnall was pregnant with her daughter, Jazmin, she was overcome with the “nesting instinct”—that parental urge to prepare a safe haven for a new arrival. As founders of, a four-year-old website for the Internet-savvy eco-shopper, Marianne and her ­husband Tom Kay know that babies are particularly vulnerable to environmental toxins. They realize that today’s children face environmental health threats not encountered by earlier generations, such as rising rates of asthma and childhood cancers, as well as the hazards of hormone-disrupting chemicals like ­dioxin, PCBs, and DDT. Concerned for their baby’s welfare, Schnall and Kay kept safety and health in mind when they decorated Jazmin’s first environment. “We wanted to make her environment as clean and pure as possible,” Schnall says.

Tots Need Super-Safe Surroundings

The couple have real reason for concern. In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that infants and children are more vulnerable than adults to environmental toxins. “Children are not little adults,” says Philip Landrigan, M.D., director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

First, babies are born with incompletely developed immune, reproductive, and central nervous systems, and their kidneys and livers can’t effectively eliminate toxins from the body. Both in the womb and after birth, a baby undergoes rapid development. Chemical exposures that would never harm an adult can wreak havoc, even irreversible damage, on a baby during this critical phase of life. Low-level exposures to lead, for example, can impact a child’s ability to concentrate, according to Herbert Needleman, M.D., a leading researcher on the effects of lead exposure on ­children. And higher levels of exposure to lead can translate to antisocial behavior, aggression, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, and lowered I.Q. In either case, lead exposure may interfere with a child’s success in school and, later, on the job and in the community.

Second, children experience a proportionately higher exposure to environmental toxins than adults. Pound-for-pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food. Thus, along with the essentials, children take in a greater dose of the pollutants that taint them.

Then there’s children’s behavior. Their curiosity leads them to finger, snatch, and mouth almost everything they come in contact with. This is a normal part of their development, and some doctors argue that children’s immune systems need some exposure to dirt and bacteria to develop fully. However, pollutants such as dust and heavier-than-air chemicals tend to collect where children love to play most—on the floor and in the grass.

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