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Health experts are concerned about children’s exposures to toxic flame retardants because these chemicals are linked to cancer, obesity, and learning issues. Childcare centers that use foam nap mats can have higher levels of cancer-causing flame retardants in their dust. Children are exposed to the chemicals when they breathe or ingest the dust.

Toxic-Free Future teamed up with researchers from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) to study whether replacing flame-retarded nap mats with flame-retardant free mats affected indoor levels of flame retardants. We tested the air and dust in seven Seattle-area childcares before and after replacing the flame-retardant laden mats and found levels in dust of four flame retardants found in the nap mats were lower in the samples taken after replacement of the mats.

The study is the first time researchers have shown that eliminating a single source of flame retardants—nap mats—can significantly reduce children’s exposure to the hazardous chemicals.

Specifically, 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.

The results show that foam nap mats are a significant source of flame retardants in child cares and demonstrate the need to phase out the use of hazardous flame retardants in children’s products. 

Manufacturers should remove toxic flame retardants from nap mats and other products, and state policymakers and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission  should ban the use of the chemicals in consumer products like nap mats.

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