Freshly painted walls, a new crib and a new changing table could have parents unwittingly exposing their infants to breathing problems, according to a new report announced by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
A test of 21 cribs, changing tables and dressers targeted for the nursery revealed that six released toxic levels of formaldehyde, according to the report.
Tested in nursery conditions where the room air was replaced every hour, the products released enough formaldehyde vapor ? 75 parts per billion ? to cause serious and lifelong illnesses like asthma.
"They could be linked to developmental problems like allergies and upper respiratory problems," said MaryPIRG Director Johanna Neumann.
"Asthma is one of the biggest reasons Maryland children miss school."
The Formaldehyde Council, an industry group, is quick to point out that the gas is a naturally occurring substance in the environment made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Formaldehyde resins are used in creating cardiac drugs, antihistamines, personal hygiene products, vaccines, vitamins, baby formula and veterinary medicine, according to the council?s Web site at formaldehyde.org.
"People with asthma are no more sensitive to formaldehyde than non-asthmatics," a council statement regarding formaldehyde in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers says.
Little of the existing research focuses on developing children, said Brenda Afzal, community health nurse at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, but the link between asthma and children's exposure to formaldehyde is becoming apparent.
"Most of what we know about the health risk for formaldehyde is from workplace exposure," Afzal said, the people working in the factories that make the furniture.
In children, "long-term exposure is sensitizing, you risk developing long-term asthma," she said.
Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, while others have no reaction to the same level of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, exposure to large amounts of formaldehyde can cause severe pain, vomiting, comas and death.
In addition to other harmful health effects, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen, associated with nasal and nose-and-throat cancer.
The risks are multiplied with babies, Afzal said.
"If you think about a baby, it?s not going to be their only exposure. Mom has probably just painted their room, and there are volatile organic compounds in the paint," she said.
"Also formaldehyde is a heavier-than-air gas, which means it stays down where toddlers and crawlers spend a lot of time."
The following products were found to emit an alarming amount of formaldehyde vapors measured in micrograms per unit per hour.
Child Craft Oak Crib: 3,680
Bridget 4-in-1 Crib by Delta: 1,670
Kayla II Changing Table by Storkcraft: 974
Berkley Changing Table by Jardine Enterprises: 662
Country Style Changing Table by South Shore Furniture: 573
Rochester Cognac Crib by Storkcraft: 69
Source: Toxic Baby Furniture: The Latest Case for Making Products Safe from the Start, released Tuesday, June 10 by Maryland PIRG Foundation