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Home >> Health >> Infants and Young Children

"We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment in our society, in which our children and our children's children are the experimental animals." Dr. Herbert Needleman, Pediatrician

Infants and Young Children

Kids are more at risk

Household chemicals have a greater effect on infants and young children, and even on the developing fetus, than they do on adults. This high risk continues into young adulthood since our bodies are still developing until then. It affects both girls and boys. The consequences may last a lifetime.

What can you do? Six tips

  1. Read labels before you buy
    Labels can guide you to safer choices for arts and crafts, toys, and household chemicals.

  2. Prevent lead poisoning
    • Vacuum and damp dust regularly using a HEPA vacuum.
    • Keep children away from peeling paint especially in older homes. Don’t let children mouth painted surfaces.
    • Remove shoes when going inside.
    • Wash hands frequently with soap and running water.
    • Run cold water tap water before using. Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
    • Don’t use imported pottery for food storage or cooking.

  3. Keep indoor air healthy and mold-free
    Keep it dry, keep it clean, and ventilate well. Avoid air fresheners or deodorizers.

  4. Keep your home pest-free
    Asthma can get worse when kids are around some pests. And no pests means no need for hazardous pesticides around your family.

  5. Use plastics carefully
    Look for products marked "BPA-free" and "phthalate-free".

  6. Be safe with chemicals
    Store hazardous products out of reach of children. Follow label instructions, and never mix chemicals.

Household cleaners and other household products

If you see DANGER, POISON, CAUTION or WARNING on the label, the product is hazardous. Some of these chemicals can

  • Make you sick or kill you
  • Catch fire easily
  • Burn your skin
  • React dangerously when mixed with other chemicals

Safer products say CAUTION or WARNING or don’t have any of these four words.

More tips


Lead could be in the wall paint or in the floor dust.

Lead is a very dangerous poison that can cause permanent harm to children and adults. Children six years and younger are most at risk for lead poisoning because their bodies are especially vulnerable during early development.

The only sure way to know if a child is lead-poisoned is by doing a blood test.


A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead is also of high concern because it can expose her developing baby. See CDC’s tips to prevent lead poisoning in pregnant women.


Lead is in most building paint manufactured before 1978. Repair or replace other possible sources of lead paint and paint dust, including:

  • Painted surfaces like windowsills
  • Cribs and other furniture manufactured before 1978
  • Old playground equipment and outside furniture
  • Imported, painted pottery
  • Vinyl blinds

Safely remove all peeling paint and paint dust from older homes.

How’s your soil?

Some King County soils contain lead dust and arsenic from Tacoma's old Asarco Smelter. Ground cover or beauty bark can prevent children from contacting contaminated soil. 

See if this affects your home. Eligible child cares receive special help with soil sampling and cleanup.

Lead in your water?

Lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing pipes, fixtures and solder. This can be true for older homes as well as new homes.

  • Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks. Hot water can leach lead from pipes.
  • Run drinking water for 60 seconds every morning before using it to flush out possible lead deposits.

Lead in toys?

Lead can be found in the paint on toys, soft vinyl (PVC) plastic toys, and some cheaper costume jewelry, so consider taking the following steps to be on the safe side.

  • Throw out older soft vinyl toys, older toys with chipping paint, and cheaper costume jewelry.
  • Buy new toys marked with symbols indicating the highest level of safety oversight, if possible.
  • Buy Arts & Crafts marked with the AP symbol
  • Frequently wash toys, pacifiers, stuffed animals and other objects young children put in their mouths.

More tips


Children, including the developing fetus, are especially vulnerable, even in low dose exposures.

Mercury in fish

Children are most often exposed when they eat fish containing methylmercury. Infants are exposed to methylmercury from their mothers, both in the womb and through breastfeeding. Methyl mercury exposure can affect thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor skills.

Fish is part of a healthy diet. Use this healthy fish guide to find safer fish choices that are low in mercury.

Mercury in light bulbs, thermometers and thermostats

More tips


Are pesticides coming inside on these footprints?

Pesticides can be carried inside on shoes, clothing, and hands, and then mix with house dust. Young children, who crawl and put objects in their mouths, can then swallow or absorb the chemicals from the dust.

Keep pests outside

Seal the openings that allow pests to enter the building; remove sources of food, water and nesting materials; use traps instead of poison. Use pesticides only as a last resort.

For specific pests

Phthalates and BPA

This plastic toy came from a local child care. It is high in three hazardous chemicals - lead, cadmium and chlorine (indicating vinyl).

Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) are man-made chemicals that can affect the reproductive system and potentially interfere with normal growth and brain development. Children get exposed by chewing on vinyl products, breathing fragrances, and applying skin lotions or perfumes.

What you can do?

Avoid vinyl and phthalate products

Avoid heating food and drink in plastic containers

  • Avoid soft vinyl toys and other vinyl products
    They may contain phthalates. Especially do not let children mouth these products. They include flexible toys, rest mats, bibs, bath books and food packaging. Replace them with products marked “phthalate-free”, or “vinyl-free”.

    3 This symbol means it may contain vinyl.

    This symbol means it may contain BPA.

  • Use drink and food containers marked “BPA-free”
    • Look for the words “BPA-free” on plastic baby bottles, sippy cups and other foodcontainers for young children.
    • Use baby bottles made of glass.
    • Use baby bottles and sippy cups purchased after July 2011.
    • Use sports water bottles purchased after July 2012.
    • Look for formula and foods in cans marked ‘BPA-free’.

  • Breastfeeding is the safest way to feed newborns and infants
  • If infant formula is used, take these steps to reduce exposure to BPA:
    • Use dry powdered formula packaged in non-metal cans.
    • Use liquid formula sold in BPA-free containers. Look for the numbers 1, 2 or 5 in the recycle symbol:
    • Use concentrated liquid formulas. Mixing the formula with water dilutes any unwanted chemicals that may be present.

  • Avoid fragranced products
    Fragrances may contain phthalates. They can also trigger asthma.

  • Avoid heating food and drink in plastic containers
    • Never heat or microwave food or drink in plastic containers, plastic bottles or in plastic cling wrap, since with heat, chemicals can leach from the plastic into the food or drink.
    • If heating a bottle, heat the bottle in warm water, rather than hot water. Avoid putting hot liquids or food into plastic containers.
    • Do not place plastics in the dishwasher.

      More tips:  phthalates and BPA.

Washington laws protect children from chemical exposure

Three Washington state laws address children’s exposures to harmful chemicals.