Researchers from several universities found flame retardants in about 80% of baby products they tested. One hundred and one polyurethane foam samples were examined in their study. The foam came from the following products: car seats, changing table pads, infant sleep positioners, portable crib mattresses, nursing pillows, high chairs, nursery rocking chairs/gliders, baby walkers, baby carriers, and assorted bathroom items.
The most common flame retardant detected was tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP). A federal website states this chemical can cause irritation of the skin, and respiratory tract. It may also cause swelling of the lungs. Ironically, when it does catch fire and burn, the byproducts are toxic fumes of chlorine, phosphorus oxides and hydrogen chloride gas. In 2006, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a statement about flame retardants in furniture foam, “upholstered furniture manufactured with TDCPP treated foam might present a hazard to consumers, based on both cancer and non-cancer end points.” (Source: pubs.acs.org)
Many of the flame retardants found were chlorinated organophosphates – 60 of the 101 foam samples contained them. There were also two flame retardants identified that they said are not even in the scientific literature yet, due to manufacturer trade secrets.
Arnold Schecter, a public health physician said, “This is a little worrisome. It’s important to know this. And the next important thing is to find out how frequent this is, what levels are there and what sort of risk this poses. The big question is: What is the toxicity? And how much is getting into children?” (Source: Discovery News)
They also found PentaBDE, a type of retardant that was phased out of use in 2004 due to health concerns, but some products containing it are still in use. The reason flame retardants were found in baby products is that they are legally required to be resistant to fire for safety reasons; yet exposing babies to potentially harmful chemicals hardly seems safe.
One of the more disturbing statements from the study paper was simply that some ingredients in the flame retardants are not known to the companies who manufacture the baby products containing them, “Many of the chemical ingredients in flame retardant mixtures are proprietary and are not disclosed by the chemical manufacturers, even to manufacturers using these chemicals in their final end products (e.g., furniture).” (Source: pubs.acs.org)
Babies and toddlers are believed more likely to be exposed to flame retardants because the chemicals are found in dust which accumulates on floors where young children spend much of their time.
The researchers wrote that their study is the first to examine flame retardants in baby products, as far as they know. (Recently a related study found that many pet dogs and cats contain flame retardants, because they lay on floors and inhale dust containing them.)
Image Credit: Mehregan Javanmard