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Protect Your Family from Flame Retardants

Suzanne Price

At first thought, the idea of having your baby’s products be flame retardant seems to make sense. Of course you want to protect your baby from the risk of being caught in a fire. However, as I began to learn that the rules for flame retardants in products like mattresses were created in the seventies when people were smoking in their bed, I started to wonder if this really applied to the safety of my baby. Then when I learned that many of the chemicals used back then to make these products “safe” have actually since been proven harmful themselves, I started to think that this was a silly trade off. I know some people don’t agree with me, but I now believe that the risk of my daughter playing with matches and lighting her nursing pillow on fire is much smaller than the risk that she will day after day put her head on something that off gasses a chemical that could hinder her development. A recent study by the Green Science Policy Institute brought to light the dangers of a number of flame retardant chemicals, as well as their prevalence in the products we use around our children.

The Green Science Policy Institute (the Institute) provides unbiased scientific data to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate informed decision-making about chemicals used in consumer products. The Institute recently published a report called, “How can you protect your family from toxic flame retardants?” that I would like to summarize for you here:

According to the Institute, children in this generation have higher rates of serious health problems that may be caused by their environments than those of previous generations. Flame retardant chemicals may be adding to these problems. The study found that 80% of baby products tested contained flame retardants that are either linked to adverse health effects or are lacking adequate health information, despite the fact that the chemicals provide no fire safety benefit.

In California, a flammability standard was passed in 1975 calling for all polyurethane foam in furniture and baby products to withstand a 12 second exposure to an open flame. The response has been the addition of high levels of flame retardant chemicals to products containing polyurethane foam. However, according to the Institute’s reading of the National Fire Protection Association’s data, this has not led to a measurable improvement in fire safety in California.

How does this affect your kids?

Toddlers show 3-4x the level of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies compared to their parents. This is because the chemicals escape from furniture and settle into house dust, which gets onto the hands, food, and toys of toddlers. It is then ingested when the toddler puts his hands in his mouth.

Here are a few of the flame retardant chemicals for which the Institute tested:

  1. PentaBDE - This commonly used flame retardant has been associated with reduced IQ in children, changes in male hormone levels and reduced sperm count, increased time to become pregnant in women, low birth weight, and impaired childhood development. Though this chemical has been banned, it may still exist in old products. PentaBDE was used in the U.S. from the 1980s until it was banned in 2004. It has been detected in car seats, rockers, and portable cribs. Consider this please when accepting a hand-me-down or buying something used on craigslist.
  2. TDCPP – This chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s because it caused genetic mutations in animal studies was found by the Institute in car seats, changing table pads, sleep positioners, baby carriers, nursing pillows, portable cribs, high chair pads, and bassinet mattresses. In a human study, men living in homes with high amounts of TDCPP in the dust were found to have reduced sperm counts and altered hormone levels.
  3. TCEP – Identified as a carcinogen by the State of California in the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, TCEP was detected in nursing pillows, baby carriers, and portable cribs.
  4. TCPP – Similar in chemical makeup to TCEP but with limited health information, TCPP was found in changing table pads, car seats, nursing pillows, sleeping wedges, portable cribs, and rockers.

You can reduce your family’s exposure to these chemicals by limiting products containing the highly flammable polyurethane foam. The Institute also lists in their report a few baby product companies that passed all of their tests. The only car seat they mention is the Orbit Baby and the only travel crib company mentioned is BabyBjorn’s Travel Light. Please inquire about the flame retardant chemicals present in other major purchases you make for your baby and your home.

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