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Home >> Health >> Infants and Young Children

Infants and Young Children

Children, including the unborn, are more vulnerable to environmental toxins because of their small size and developing bodies. Household chemicals have a greater effect on their growing bodies and organs, and consequences may last a lifetime. Some facts to consider: At certain stages of pre-natal development, exposure to low doses of some chemicals can cause permanent harm. Infants crawl, breath and eat on the ground and carpets, where dust and chemicals settle. The human nervous system, hormonal system and organs continue to develop into young adulthood, making children vulnerable until then. Most of the 75,500 chemicals listed for use in the United States have not been tested for toxicity to children. See an Environmental Health News Special Report to discover chemicals of ‘high concern’ found in thousands of children’s products.

Suggestions for reducing infant exposures to Bisphenol A, or BPA

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical of concern found in clear, hard plastics made of polycarbonate, in certain sealants, and in thermal paper commonly used to print cash register receipts. Most human exposure to BPA is from household products. Some animal studies show that infants and the fetus may be the most vulnerable to BPA. So parents and caregivers may want to reduce their exposure to products with BPA. More information can be found on our BPA webpage.

Breastfeeding is the safest way to feed newborns and infants. If infant formula is used, take these steps to reduce exposure to BPA:

  • Replace older (pre-2011) baby bottles or sippy cups. BPA was often used in these baby products in the past, but not anymore. BPA was eliminated by July 2011 in Washington State and by July 2012 in the U.S.
  •  Avoid ready-to-eat liquid formulas in metal cans. They are lined with a sealant that contains 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: icons
  • Use concentrated liquid formulas. Mixing the formula with water dilutes any unwanted chemicals that may be present.

Parents can find more tips here…

Other Plastics

A great deal of attention has been focused recently on phthalates, which are plasticizers used to make polyvinyl chloride (also called vinyl or PVC) more flexible. PVC is found in many consumer products, including toys, shower curtains, baby bibs, plastic cling wrap, car floor mats, window blinds, water pipes, hoses, gutters, and siding. This symbol means the plastic is PVC: 3 icon


People are most often exposed to mercury by eating fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. Children, including the unborn, are most vulnerable to mercury poisoning because their developing brains and nervous systems are sensitive to low-doses of methylmercury. Methylmercury exposure can affect thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor skills. Infants are exposed to methylmercury from their mothers, both in the womb and through breastfeeding. Children are exposed when they eat fish containing mercury.

This healthy fish guide will help you and your family reduce your exposure to mercury in fish.


LeadLead is a toxic metal that can impair a child’s growth, hearing and learning ability. Lead is tracked into the house on shoes and can be released when old paint inside the house is disturbed. It accumulates in rugs, carpets and furniture and gets on the hands and other items infants put in their mouths. Lead dust is the biggest source of lead intake for infants.

The following articles discuss how to reduce lead exposure in infants and young children:
Reducing exposure to lead from older homes. Washington Toxics Coalition.
Despite new lead laws, consumers still need to be vigilant,” Tom Watson, Seattle Times, October 4, 2008.
Getting the Lead Out of Toys,” Tom Watson. Seattle Times, Nov. 3, 2007.

Breastfeeding and infant health

Information about breastfeeding and infant health is available from Public Health – Seattle & King County. The information is also provided in Spanish at Lo que dicen las mamás sobre dar pecho.

Other resources that address the issue of how to reduce chemical exposure in infants and young children include:

Breastmilk: Protection for your Baby. A flyer that discusses flame retardents and breastfeeding. This flyer is also in Spanish at La Leche Materna: Proteccion para su Bebe

Choices for a Healthy Pregnancy. Washington Toxics Coalition Web site provides information about how to protect unborn children, infants and young children from harmful chemicals.

New laws to protect children from chemical exposure

Policymakers recognize the importance of limiting the exposure of children to harmful chemicals. Three new Washington state laws address this issue.

In October 2009, the Northwest Children’s Environmental Health Forum and Fair brought policymakers, academic researchers and parents together to work on eliminating harmful environmental exposures to children from pre-conception to age six.