Attention Reporters and Editors: Video and images of nap mat testing available here.
(Seattle, WA) – Removing chemical flame retardants from foam nap mats in childcare centers can lower levels of the chemicals in dust by as much as 90%, a new peer-reviewed study has found. The study, appearing in Environmental Pollution today, is the first time researchers have shown that eliminating a single source of flame retardants—nap mats—can significantly reduce children’s exposure to hazardous chemicals that are linked to cancer, obesity, and nervous system harm.
Children are exposed to flame retardants in nap mats when the chemicals escape the mats, contaminate dust and air, and then are inhaled or ingested. Childcares that use foam nap mats have been found to have higher levels of flame retardants in their dust. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemicals as their bodies are still developing.
“Kids shouldn’t be eating or breathing flame retardants hidden in nap mats they play and rest on. Childcares are places to learn, have fun, and be safe. Our study shows that by removing toxic flame retardants from foam nap mats, we can provide kids with a healthier childcare environment to learn and play in,” said Erika Schreder, who led the study and is the Science Director at Toxic-Free Future.
Researchers from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and Toxic-Free Future tested air and dust samples from seven Seattle childcare providers before and after replacing flame retardant-treated nap mats with flame-retardant-free mats. Drs. Amina Salamova, Marta Venier, and William Stubbings of SPEA analyzed the dust and air for flame retardants found in the mats, including chlorinated Tris and chemicals that make up the commercial flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550.
The study shows that nap mats can be a significant source of exposure for kids to flame retardants. Specifically, after removing the flame-retardant-treated mats, researchers found:
- A 90% decrease in the levels of BEHTBP (bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate), a component of the commercial flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550®. Firemaster 550® has been linked to obesity and early puberty.
- A 79% decrease in the levels of EHTBB (2-ethyl-hexyl tetrabromobenzoate), another flame retardant found in Firemaster 550®.
- A 40% decrease in the levels of chlorinated Tris (TDCPP, tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate). Chlorinated Tris has been banned in children’s products in 5 states, including Washington. It is designated as a carcinogen by the State of California.
- A 65% decrease in the levels of TBPP (tris(4-butylphenyl)phosphate)), a flame retardant and plasticizer considered highly bioaccumulative and high hazard for systemic toxicity by the USEPA.
“Developing interventions to reduce exposures to flame retardants and other environmental contaminants is very important in providing solutions for making the childcare environment where children spend 8-10 hours every day a healthier place,” said Dr. Amina Salamova, Assistant Scientist at Indiana University and senior author of the study.
While some parents and childcare centers may want to purchase nap mats without flame retardants or other harmful chemicals, there aren’t many options available, especially mats that are affordable for everyone. Many brands that don’t contain flame retardants are made with vinyl, a soft plastic that can contain chemicals called phthalates that can disrupt hormones. The one brand researchers did find was free of flame retardants and vinyl was one made by Community Playthings. Information for childcare providers and parents on reducing flame retardant exposures can be found at: toxicfreefuture.org/napmats
The results reinforce the need to phase out the use of hazardous flame retardants in consumer products. Several states have acted to ban some flame retardants in children’s products, including Washington. Last September, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a warning to consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to avoid using products containing some of the most harmful flame retardants in children’s products called “organohalogens.” The CPSC also voted to move forward with a ban on these chemicals, but no timetable has been announced.
Health experts are calling on manufacturers to remove toxic flame retardants from nap mats and other products, and for state policymakers and the CPSC to ban the use of the chemicals in nap mats and other products.
“As a childcare provider, I am shocked that these chemicals are allowed in nap mats and that there aren’t more options for safer mats. It’s very disappointing that there are harmful chemicals in products sold to childcare centers. I hope that this compelling study will encourage and motivate the companies to stop using harmful chemicals in their mats,” said Susan Lee, Director of Early Learning Center Operations and Volunteer Service at the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA).
“This is a simple and elegant use of solution science: when you remove the foam nap mats filled with toxic flame retardants, the levels of these dangerous chemicals go down in childcares. Now we just need to make this a simple solution affordable,” said Charlotte Brody, National Director of Healthy Babies Bright Futures.
“Childcare providers and parents shouldn’t have to worry that flame retardant chemicals in nap mats could make kids sick. We need policymakers to pass laws banning the use of these chemicals in kids’ products so that all kids are safe. Manufacturers need to put their littlest customers first and phase out the use of chemicals that harm kids’ health,” said Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future.
“We urgently need policies that reduce the use of flame retardants from everyday products, especially in children’s nap mats. These nap mats are found in most childcare centers and affect all children equally, nevertheless, the children in low-income communities will be exposed to these dangerous chemicals on the mats for a longer period of time because their parents and/or the childcare centers they attend are restricted financially to be able to replace them promptly. All of our children deserve to play, learn and sleep in healthy places regardless of their income levels or zip code,” said Óskar Zambrano Méndez with Latino Community Community of Washington State.