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The Nursery: Baby-Safe Planning

In the weeks before a baby is born, parents often rush to prepare the nursery with new paint, carpet, and furniture -- not always wise since fetuses and infants are vulnerable to the toxic fumes that generally accompany new furnishings. "Pound for pound, babies breathe in two to three times more air than adults, and their brains and organs are still not fully developed," says Philip Landrigan, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, in New York City.

Most paints, wallpaper adhesives, and varnishes need adequate time to release certain hazardous chemicals, such as those added to help the products dry, says Barbara Sattler, director of the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Optimally, just-painted and wallpapered rooms, as well as new furniture and mattresses, should be given four to eight weeks of open-window ventilation.

Chemical dissipation is especially crucial when it comes to newly installed wall-to-wall synthetic carpet, the source of more than 500 health complaints -- runny noses, headaches, rashes, and fatigue -- received by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) since 1988. "Leave the house for several hours on the day the carpet is installed," advises Ken Giles, a spokesperson for the CPSC. "If possible, open the windows and turn on fans and air conditioners before you go; continue to run them for two days."

One option to consider when decorating the nursery: environmentally friendly paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and furniture that's either unpainted or made of hardwood rather than pressed wood (which is usually treated with chemicals).

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