Highchairs, car seats, and nursing pillows are just a few of the baby products commonly made with polyurethane foam. According to new research, this foam contains carcinogenic flame retardants similar to the ones that were banned in children's clothing over 30 years ago. While flame retardants are helpful in the case of a fire in the home, the health effects since their introduction are largely unstudied and they are widely believed to cause cancer, infertility and neurological disorders.
Over a third of the 101 products tested contained chlorinated Tris (TDCP), a flame retardant that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has previously stated “is considered a probable human carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence in animal studies.” Although the research did not determine whether children absorbed chemicals such as TDCP, the report published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology suggests that the level of exposure is higher than government recommendations. In addition, 79 of the products tested contained at least one type of brominated or chlorinated flame retardant, types that are most recently linked to health problems. Most of the products tested had enough flame retardants to constitute 3-5% of the products total weight. Fourteen of the products were found to contain TCEP, a chemical which has been labeled a cancer-causing agent by the state of California. Overall, flame retardants were commonly found in car seats, changing table pads, sleep positioners, portable mattresses, baby carriers, rocking chairs, high chairs, infant bathing mats/slings, nursing pillows and baby walkers.
Despite the dismal findings, these products still might not be posing a large health threat to children and more study is needed to determine how much is being absorbed. Gordon L. Nelson, a chemistry professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, says that the plastic covers on many of the products keep the chemicals in the foam from seeping out. He also points out that flame retardants have significantly decreased the numbers of deaths from fire.
California led the way in the use of flame retardants with the 1975 California standard, which requires that all polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be unable to catch fire for at least 12 seconds when exposed to an open flame. Rather than manufacture products with varying levels of flame retardants, most companies simply comply with the California law across the board. Even though California exempted nursing pillows, baby carriers, and strollers from the California standard last year, flame retardants were discovered in nursing pillows and baby carriers during this study. The exemptions of children’s products from the flame resistance standards are helpful, but companies aren’t exactly clamoring to change their manufacturing processes.
The problem with flame retardants is that they are easily absorbed through the skin and tend to form a toxic dust in the home that is easily inhaled. High concentrations of flame retardants in the body have been linked with infertility, cancer and problems with neurological development. The CPSC has been working on the problem of flame retardants in upholstered furniture for 16 years. In the meantime, if companies could divulge which products contain flame retardants, it would allow parents to avoid exposing their children to possible carcinogens until legislation is passed.
Would you be more inclined to purchase products labeled “Flame retardant free?”
Chemical Suspected in Cancer Is in Baby Products [NYTimes]
Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products [Environmental Science & Technology]
CPSC Staff Preliminary Risk Assessment of Flame Retardant (FR) Chemicals in Upholstered Furniture Foam [CPSC]
Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants: The San Antonio Statement [Environmental Health Perspectives]