(Seattle, WA)  A study of products made for newborns, babies, and toddlers – including car seats, breast feeding pillows, changing pads, crib wedges, bassinet mattresses and other items made with polyurethane foam – found that 80% of products tested contained chemical flame retardants that are considered toxic, according to a peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science & Technology Journal.  Other retardants discovered had so little health and safety data on them it is not possible to know their effects at this time. The same flame retardants found in some of the products are also found in children’s bodies and widely dispersed throughout the environment and in food. A copy of the study can be found at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2007462.

The new study analyzed 101 products for the presence of halogenated flame retardants.  Interior foam samples were tested from nursing pillows, baby carriers, car seats, changing table pads, high chairs, strollers, bassinets, portable cribs, walkers, changing pads, baby carriers, sleeping wedges, baby tub insert, bath slings, glider rockers, and other child care items. Samples were submitted from purchase locations around the United States, including Washington state.

Study results:

  • 29 products contained the flame retardant chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas over health concerns in the late 1970s. In animal studies chlorinated Tris has been associated with cancer of the liver, kidney, brain and testis, among other harmful effects.
  • 14 products contained TCEP, a carcinogenic flame retardant on California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals and on Washington state’s proposed list of chemicals of high concern to children. Laboratory animal studies show TCEP causes tumors in the kidney and thyroid glands. In other laboratory animal studies, TCEP has been shown to cause reductions in fertility and poor sperm quality and to interfere with brain signaling, causing hyperactivity.  TCEP is no longer produced in Europe and has been identified by Canada as posing a risk to human health.
  • Four products contained penta-BDE, a substance banned for certain applications in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states, including Washington state, and subject to a national phase-out.
  • 16 products contained Firemaster 550/600 flame retardants. EPA has predicted toxicity and required additional testing.
  • 14 products contained TCPP, which is very similar in chemical structure to Chlorinated Tris and TCEP and has limited health information.

“Taking action to get PBDEs out of consumer products was the right thing to do, but our kids deserve better than to be exposed to replacements that may cause cancer and other health problems,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition. “We need laws that will make sure companies find the safest way to make products flame resistant rather than just switch to another toxic chemical.”

The Toxic-Free Kids Act (HB 1319 and SB 5231), a bill introduced in the 2011 Washington state legislature, would have filled a gap in state laws regulating toxic chemicals by requiring manufacturers to identify safer alternatives to certain hazardous chemicals used in children’s products. The bill targeted chemicals already found to be harmful to kids, like the TCEP flame retardant found in the study, bisphenol A, phthalates, and cadmium. The bill failed to pass, falling victim to heavy lobbying by the Toy Industry Association, the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Retail Association, and the American Chemistry Council.

In addition, the Washington State Department of Ecology is currently seeking public comment until June 15, 2011, on its rule implementing the Children’s Safe Products Act, which would require manufacturers to report on levels of toxic chemicals in children’s products. While the draft reporting list includes one of the chemicals detected in this study, TCEP, other flame retardant chemicals, including chlorinated Tris, are not required to be reported. Now that it is clear these other flame retardants are commonly used in children’s products, the Washington Toxics Coalition called on Ecology to consider adding these additional chemicals to the reporting list. For more information on the rule visit: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/cspa/

Alternatives to organohalogen flame retardant chemicals include using less flammable materials, design changes, and safer chemicals. Stronger electrical codes and modernized building and fire codes, as well as increased use of smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, and self-extinguishing cigarettes, will all continue to help prevent fires without using toxic chemicals.

“Toxic or untested flame retardants like the ones found in this study can migrate out of products and end up in our homes and our bodies.  These chemicals are associated with adverse human health effects including reduced IQ, increased time to pregnancy, endocrine and thyroid disruption, and impaired child development,” says Arlene Blum, PhD, a co-author of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. Blum’s early research contributed to the removal of Tris flame retardants from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s. Blum says, “I was surprised to find Tris back in high levels in the foam in baby products.”

“Scientific research increasingly links some of today’s growing health problems with exposure to the types of halogenated flame retardant chemicals found in these baby products,” said Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. “Lowered IQ, reproductive problems –including the time it takes to get pregnant and sperm quality– and abnormalities in male baby genitalia have all been linked to flame retardant chemical exposure. If this wasn’t concerning enough, only a small number of flame retardants have undergone safety testing. We need federal reform of our chemical policy laws to ensure the chemicals we bring into our homes are safe.”

According to Environmental Health News, researchers have found that U.S. adults have 20 times more of the flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than Europeans. Household dust tested in two areas of California had 200 times more brominated flame retardants than European homes.  A recent study found that low income Mexican-American school children in California are apt to have 7 times more PBDE flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than Mexican children of the same age. The 7-year old Californians tested had more of the chemicals in their bodies than almost all people tested worldwide.   Only Nicaraguan children living or working on hazardous waste sites have higher levels.
Scientists suggest the following tips for minimizing exposure to toxic flame retardants in baby products:

  1. Keep dust levels down by wet mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter 
  2. Wash your hands and those of your children often, as hand-to-mouth contact exposes us to flame retardants in dust
  3. Purchase baby products and furniture filled with cotton, polyester, or wool instead of polyurethane foam
  4. Avoid products that use polyurethane foam and have a TB117 label, which likely contain chemical flame retardants
  5. Write or call the manufacturer to inquire whether flame retardants were added to the product

Some safe brands:

  • BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses
  • BabyBjorn baby carriers
  • OrbitBaby strollers and car seats
  • Boppy nursing pillows

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