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The Easy and Inexpensive Green Home Guide

James Tse

Sure, saving faraway rain forests is noble, but there are easy ways to go green right in your own home and eliminate health risks to both baby and planet -- without turning your life upside down or spending a bundle.

Like "LOL," "bling" and "wardrobe malfunction," "green" is a pop-culture term teetering on the brink of overkill. It's a trendy word employed by celebrities with a cause and retail brands that pluck our altruistic heartstrings. But for the average mom or dad, green means dragging a bin of cans and bottles to the curb every Thursday morning, with a faint hope that it will save a rain forest 3,000 miles away or an ozone layer they can't see. Worthwhile? Absolutely, but green isn't just about deforestation in South America or a layer in the earth's atmosphere. It's about our homes, our bodies and our babies.

In 2005, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment, conducted a small study to see which industrial chemicals and pollutants were present in a newborn's cord blood at the moment of birth. The results were staggering: The average baby had 200 chemicals and pollutants in his cord blood; 287 different chemicals were discovered in the 10 babies tested. Some chemicals came from common consumer products like fabric-stain removers and fast-food packaging; others had been banned in the United States for years but still linger in the food chain, groundwater and soil. For these infants, the umbilical cord -- a baby's conduit for oxygen and nutrients -- was a contaminated lifeline. "We were shocked," says Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician in Danville, California, and a contributor to the EWG study. "Many people don't know that when something is polluting the environment, it's [also] polluting us."

Greene is no stranger to the impact the environment has on us. It was a lesson he first learned on March 12, 1996, when his wife, Cheryl, was diagnosed with breast cancer. "She was nursing our youngest baby and had to stop," he recalls. "It was a real life-changer." While researching his wife's illness, Greene discovered a connection between breast cancer and pesticides. As it happens, Cheryl grew up on a farm in California's Central Valley. "I learned about the pesticides they used on the farm," he explains. "These pesticides were sprayed outside her bedroom window and were in the well water." Today Cheryl is cancer-free, but Greene continues his cause as the author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green, books that cover everything from air-filtering plants to zinc-oxide sunscreens.

For those who haven't experienced an "a-ha" moment like this, green tends to be associated with inconvenience. It's true: To go green often requires an extra step, a second thought or one more pit stop on the way home. But incremental changes might just change your child's life. "Health issues like asthma, childhood obesity and ADHD are on the rise," Greene explains. "So what's causing it? The human body hasn't changed. It's the environment that's changed."

Here are a few simple ways to make your new baby's life a little greener -- and healthier too.