Vowing to shop in the eco-friendly aisle after you have kids is one thing. But could these uninvited toxins already be hiding out in your house?

By Kimberly Hiss
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Let's face it: You can't avoid everything. But these toxic chemicals deserve your attention when it comes to protecting your family according to experts.

Bisphenols and Phthalates

The Problem

Phthalates are linked to reproductive abnormalities, while bisphenols (such as BPA) are associated with learning disorders and hyperactivity. They’re both found mainly in plastics. Phthalates are also in some personal-care products, food packaging, and toys; BPA is in the lining of some food cans.

Act Now 

Avoid buying plastics with the recycle numbers 3, 6, and 7—they could contain these chemicals. Many food companies have recently eliminated BPA from the lining of their cans. Check the label or website for brands you use often. Unfortunately, the cooking process doesn’t get rid of the BPA in food.

RELATEDThe Real Mom's Guide to Reducing Plastic Pollution

Tobacco Smoke

The Problem

Secondhand smoke contains more than 70 carcinogens. Pregnant women who smoke or breathe secondhand smoke have a significantly higher risk of miscarriage and premature birth. A child exposed to secondhand smoke is at higher risk of SIDS and other health concerns such as frequent ear infections.

Act Now

There’s no safe way to light up. “It drives me crazy when parents say, ‘I just smoke in my bedroom, so my kids don’t get exposed,’ ” Dr. Lowry says. “Air circulates through the entire home.” If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or call 800-QUIT-NOW.

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The Problem

This naturally occurring element can cause learning difficulties and other neurological concerns. Lead paint found in homes built before 1978 is the biggest source of exposure. It can also be in household dust, soil around your home, toys, old furniture, and water from lead pipes.

Act Now

Block areas of chipping or peeling paint from children, dust with a moist cloth, mop regularly, and have any renovation work done by a lead-safe certified contractor.


The Problem

Being exposed to even low levels can put kids at risk for ADHD, impaired memory, and trouble with gross and fine motor skills.

Act Now

Instead of spraying, clean up standing water, store foods in containers, and seal cracks that pests might use to enter the home. If you still have a problem, place bait traps where children can’t reach them rather than using foggers, sprays, or “bombs.” No luck? Contact your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (pehsu.net).

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Flame Retardants

The Problem

These chemicals found in some car seats, pj’s, strollers, furniture, and other fabrics have been linked to a host of health issues, and firefighters say they offer little if any additional fire protection.

Act Now

Check product descriptions and labels, think twice before buying items with flame retardants, and wash clothes before wearing. Repair or replace furniture if the foam is coming out.


The Problem

This invisible, odorless gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. It occurs when uranium breaks down in soil, and it can spread into a home through cracks in the foundation walls and floors.

Act Now

Test all homes below the third floor using a kit from a home-improvement store or the National Radon Program Services (sosradon.org). It can also help you find a professional reduction service.

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