Over 100 baby products have been found to contain toxic chemicals according to a new study. Some of the products contained chemicals that have been banned for years.
A new study of baby products found that 80% of items tested contained chemical flame retardants that are either considered toxic or are untested with unknown effects, according to a peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science & Technology Journal.
Many of the chemicals found in the study have been classified as probable carcinogens. Some have been known to interrupt normal hormone systems. Some have been linked to brain damage. Researchers found one chemical that was supposed to have been phased out years ago.
The study analyzed 101 products designed for newborns, babies, and toddlers – including car seats, breast feeding pillows, changing pads, crib wedges, bassinet mattresses and other items made with polyurethane foam – for the presence of halogenated flame retardants. Interior foam samples were submitted for testing from purchase locations around the United States. Twenty-nine products contained TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas over health concerns in the late 1970s.
Measurable health risks for baby products treated with these chemicals have not been established. Still, the findings are worrisome for some experts. “We need to eliminate toxic chemicals from baby products to give our children the right start,” said U.S. PIRG Environmental Health advocate Meghan Purvis. “Our government should give parents the information they need to adequately protect their children from toxic chemicals, and ultimately remove toxic chemicals from children’s products.”
Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) is a common flame retardant used to reduce the risk of fire in a wide variety of products, such as children’s pajamas and your computer. PBDEs are excellent flame retardants, but the chemicals have been accumulating in the environment and in human bodies. Relatively recent reports have indicated that exposure to low concentrations of these chemicals may result in irreparable damage to the nervous and reproductive systems.
Lead researcher Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University in Durham, N.C. hopes these results will help raise awareness.
“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.” Flammability practices around the United States are heavily influenced 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, Stapleton said, is to add chemicals to the foam.
In treated products, however, flame retardant chemicals are not chemically bound. The compounds leach out of the foam and turn into dust, which is easy for babies to get on their hands and in their mouths. Despite the known ubiquity of flame retardant chemicals in furniture, scientists have debated whether companies also use them to treat polyurethane foam in products that are designed for small children.
To find out, Stapleton and colleagues acquired 101 samples of foam from a variety of products purchased around the United States. Items, which were donated for the study, included 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, the researchers found a suite of flame-retardants in 80 of the samples.
Parents can reduce potentially harmful chemicals in household dust by using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, says Sarah Janssen of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Kids also should wash their hands before eating. And families should replace furniture with ripped upholstery that exposes the inner foam, which is commonly treated with flame retardants.
As an alternative to products with flame retardant chemicals consider buying baby products and furniture that contain polyester, down, wool or cotton which are less likely to contain harmful flame retardant chemicals.
Purchase strollers and car seats with Expanded Polypropylene foam that meets TB 117 without added chemicals.
The pending “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,” introduced in Congress last month, would phase out toxic flame retardants and other chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in people’s blood and tissue. “Under current law, EPA is powerless to act against even the most notorious chemicals,” Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Sustainable Business.com. “The Safe Chemicals Act would provide EPA with the authority it needs to protect public health; the marketplace with the information companies need to innovate safe products; and consumers with the comfort in knowing that their families are being protected.”