The chemicals used as flame retardants have long been known to be dangerous, most likely even cancer causing. Back in the late 1970s, childrenswear manufacturers had to stop treating pajamas with one of these chemicals due to potential health risks. So why now, more than three decades later, is a related chemical commonly applied to such frequently used children’s items as car seats, high chairs, changing pads, and nursing pillows?
A new study, which took place at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has shown that not only do many baby products made from polyurethane foam contain this chemical called chlorinated tris, but the children coming into contact with them have higher levels of exposure to the chemical than the government recommends.1 And let’s face it, government recommendations aren’t always that safe to begin with.
The researchers tested foam samples from 101 various baby products. Their analysis found that 80 of the items had some form of chemical flame retardant, and more than one-third of them contained chlorinated tris. It was a close relative of chlorinated tris called brominated tris that was banned by the United States government more than 30 years ago. Chlorinated tris is currently one of the three flame retardants most frequently used by manufacturers. However, numerous health-related organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency, consider it a cancer-causing agent.
Another flame retardant, TCEP, was found in 14 of the sampled objects. The state of California has classified this particular chemical as a carcinogen. Another four products were determined to contain Penta-BDE, a chemical that is known to collect in bodily tissues. Curiously, manufacturers supposedly ceased to use it voluntarily as of 2004.
The problem begins with the normal wear and tear of commonly used items. Eventually, the flame retardants break down into particles that enter the air. It is definitely absorbed through the skin, and we might be able to inhale it as well. High concentrations have been found in household dust. Plenty of studies have shown flame retardants to be carcinogenic, associating them with various cancers, reproductive issues, developmental defects, anemia, liver failure, and skin irritation.
In 2006, Environmental Defence in Canada conducted a study called “Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadians” that analyzed samples from adults and children as young as 10 to determine whether there were excessive chemicals in their bodies. They found that there were flame retardants, stain repellents, heavy metals, and many other toxins present, even in those families that attempted to be health conscious, and even in those families that lived hundreds of miles from the sources of pollution.
It’s important to remember, too, that the biochemical make-up of children makes them more sensitive to chemicals so that even if the levels are low, health consequences are likely. A lifetime of exposure to even low levels of toxins will ultimately degrade your health.
According to U.S. research on fire retardants, 97 percent of Americans have detectable levels of these chemicals in their bloodstream. Americans have 20 times higher levels than Europeans, because of U.S. laws requiring fire retardant use. Average levels in Americans have doubled every four to six years since the 1970s.
It is virtually impossible to know when purchasing items which ones contain these flame retardant chemicals since there is no requirement for manufacturers to label the materials that are used. There is very little evidence that the chemicals save lives, and back in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission actually discouraged the use of fire retardants in all home furnishings, including baby products.
While scientists further measure the amount of chemicals in baby products and how much of that is absorbed into our bodies and those of our children, lawmakers don’t seem to be in any rush to change the status quo. And we can certainly count on the manufacturers of these products to continue with business as usual. The best that we can do is try to seek out products not made of polyurethane foam. If they are the only option, at least choose one that does not have a label stating that it complies with California’s flammability standard, which means it is guaranteed to be pumped full of flame retardant chemicals. Thank you very much, California.
And once you’re old enough, you might want to consider regularly detoxing to clean out as much of the accumulated toxins as possible — especially from your liver.
1 Stapleton, Heather M.; Klosterhaus, Susan; Keller, Alex; Ferguson, P. Lee; van Bergen, Saskia; Cooper, Ellen; Webster, Thomas F.; Blum, Arlene. “Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products.” Environmental Science & Technology. 18 May 2011. American Chemical Society. 2 June 2011. <http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2007462>.