BC (before children) you might have thought nothing of using oven cleaner or dishwasher tablets. You are ‘cleaning’ not handling indoor pollutants. But the reality is that on a daily basis we use poisons and toxic products and when a baby arrives in the house, we need to see them as potential risks. 

How common is childhood injury from indoor pollutants?

For young children (0-4 years) exposure to the environment is one of the top 10 causes of injury that results in transportation to hospital by ambulance. A quarter of non-medicinal poisonings treated in hospital emergency departments are from household cleaners such as soap, detergent, dishwasher detergent, bleach and other caustic substances.  

Other chemicals often involved in poisoning include petrol, paint/paint thinner, essential/fragrant oil, vaporiser liquid, moth repellant, pesticide/insecticide/herbicide, rat poison, glue/adhesive and paints/dyes. 

How are children exposed to indoor pollutants?

While immediate poisoning can occur, children are most often exposed to pesticides and household chemicals in low doses over long periods of time.  

Think of it this way – who is closer to the bleach you just put on the floor? You or your crawling baby? 

Household testing found that contaminate concentrations in the child breathing zone (25cm above the floor) were five to 10 times higher than in the adult zone (100-150cm above the floor). Therefore, children are exposed to a greater amount of contaminates than adults. 

The main exposure pathways are: 
• Ingestion – swallowing  
• Inhalation – breathing  
• Dermal contact – touching.  

Unique exposure pathways are:  
• In the womb, toxic agents can cross the placenta.  
• Pollutants can pass into a mother’s milk  
• Specific behaviour according to age group or circumstance, for example, crawling.  

What are the health effects of babies being exposed to indoor pollutants?

Major lung development in children occurs before birth, in the first one to two years after birth and then continues until five to eight years of age. Inhalation of chemicals from the household environment can have both long and short-term consequences on children’s health. 

Asthma, chronic bronchitis and some cancers are linked to exposures to air pollutants early in life. Wheezing and asthma are more common in children whose mothers used more cleaners and household chemicals during pregnancy.  

Children have a higher risk of exposure to household chemicals because they crawl, play close to the floor, put objects in their mouth, touch everything and put their hands in their mouth. 

How do I prevent exposure to indoor pollutants?

Be aware of your environment even before your child is born and look for non-toxic alternatives. Once the child is born, limit your child’s contact with and access to cleaning products. 

Golden rule: Remove cleaning products from low cupboards like under your kitchen sink. Put dishwasher tablets up high or use child safe locks to store cleaning products or chemicals 

  • Seek non-toxic cleaning solutions like bi-carb soda and white vinegar instead of bleach.  
  • Always wash fruit and vegetables to remove chemicals.  
  • Wash hands regularly and wipe down surfaces and toys with non-toxic cleaning products. 

Remember Children are not little adults and have a much higher rate of absorption of chemicals and allergens through inhalation than adults.  

  • During any home renovations, ensure there is proper ventilation 
  • Avoid burning mosquito coils and the use of insecticides and pesticides inside the home
  • Ensure your home is adequately ventilated and air-conditioning systems are kept clean 
  • Make sure mattresses, bedding, carpets and upholstered furniture are clean and dry to limit the growth of dust mites, fungi and bacteria. 

Need some advice? 

Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play. 
 
Call Kidsafe Qld: 3854 1829