Many Common Infant and Children’s Products Contain Potentially Toxic Chemicals
Most children’s products are treated with flame retardant chemicals that would prevent fires from starting or spreading as a safety feature, but unfortunately, a new study finds that many of these are toxic or untested or have been banned from use for some time due to the possible health risks associated with children absorbing the chemicals into their bodies.
While more studies need to be conducted to accurately quantify the health risks associated with these products, the findings are worrisome enough for parents to seek out alternatives say lead researcher Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University in North Carolina.
Study Finds 80% of Baby Products Tested Have Added Flame Retardants Which May Be Harmful to Children
Flammability practices around the US are influenced largely by California standards, which require that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand exposure to a small, open flame for 12 seconds. The cheapest and easiest way to meet that standard is to add chemicals to the foam, says Stapleton.
Stapleton’s team of researchers collected 101 samples of foam from a variety of infant and children’s products purchased around the nation, including car seats, changing table pads, sleep positioners, portable crib mattresses, nursing pillows, high chairs, and infant bath mats.
Using a variety of chemical analysis techniques, they found flame-retardant chemicals in 80 of the samples, most of which belonged to a class called chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs).
Five of the samples contained a chemical called PentaPBDE which was phased out by manufacturers in 2004, suggesting that either the chemical is still being used or that it persists for long periods of time. Gordon Nelson, a professor of chemistry at the Florida Institute of Technology, notes that some of the baby products tested were purchased in 2002 before the chemical was banned, but this still poses a risk to parents who purchase used baby gear or use hand-me-downs for siblings.
Another flame retardant, called Tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate or TCEP, was found in 10 of the nursing pillows tested. California lists TCEP as a carcinogen. Studies have also found the chemicals to harm the liver, kidney, brain and testes. A related chemical TDCP (Tris 1,3-dichloro-2-propyl phosphate) which was once added to children’s pajamas but removed in 1977 because of cancer concerns, was found in one-third of the baby products tested.
Two of the compounds found had never before been described in published environmental literature, suggesting that the chemicals had not yet been tested for safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found flame retardant chemicals in the bodies of 90% of Americans. Young children are particularly at risk because they are the group that is most highly exposed and spend a lot of time on the floor where the chemicals can accumulate in household dust. Researchers estimate that toddlers can ingest up to ten times as much of these chemicals as adults and may have levels in their bodies three times higher than adults.
“We’re hoping to raise awareness about whether these products are fire hazards in the first place, whether they require chemicals to be in there if they are, and if they can be treated in other ways,” Stapleton said. “We’re not trying to compromise fire safety. But there have got to be other ways of treating these to reduce flammability without adding these chemicals.”
In the meantime, Stapleton recommended that parents look for baby products made with polyester or other materials instead of polyurethane foam. And if a product’s label says that it conforms to Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) as declared by the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, don’t buy it, she said. That’s a sure sign that it contains toxic chemicals that could threaten the health of your baby.
Four brands of infant products have come forward to say that their products meet California standards without toxic chemicals. These include BabyLuxe Organic, Baby Bjorn, Orbit Baby, and Boppy.
American Chemical Society
Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products
Environmental Science & Technology