Hidden Hazards in the Nursery

San Francisco, CA ‘85% of tested baby products, including nursing pillows and car seats, contained toxic flame retardants linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other adverse health effects, according to a report released today by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States. The report echoes a scientific study published last May in Environmental Science & Technology where, similarly, scientists found 80% of baby products tested contained toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals.

These toxic chemicals leak from the products into house dust which is ingested by people and pets. Toxic flame retardants have similar structures and toxic properties as banned chemicals like DDT, PCBs and dioxins and are now found in the bodies of nearly all North Americans tested, with the highest levels in young children, "Toxic flame retardants in our furniture do not reduce fire deaths and are a major threat to the public’s health,’ according to Wendel Brunner, MD, PhD, Director of the Contra Costa County Health  Department. ‘Children and infants are most vulnerable to their harmful effects, and there is no excuse for including them products like nursing pillows and infant car seats."

Manufacturers add flame retardant chemicals to foam in baby products to meet Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), an obsolete 1975 California flammability standard for baby products and furniture.

Hidden Hazards In the Nursery (available online at www.watoxics.org/publications/hidden-hazards), found toxic flame retardants in 85% (17 of 20) of new baby and children’s products tested, including bassinet pads, nursing pillows, changing pads, and car seats. Chlorinated Tris was present in 80% of the products (16 of 20). This chemical was removed from children’s pajamas when it was found to be a mutagen and possible carcinogen. Last year Tris was listed as a carcinogen under California’s Prop 65 law. Chlorinated Tris is associated with neurotoxicity and hormone disruption in addition to cancer.

"It’s time for California to eliminate a misguided regulation that loads our furniture with toxic chemicals, and that provides no safety benefit to consumers," said Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California.

Human studies have shown associations between increased flame retardant body levels and reduced IQ in children, endocrine and thyroid disruption, changes in male hormone levels, reduced fertility, adverse birth outcomes, and impaired development. 

‘It’s hard to believe that the same chlorinated Tris flame retardant that my research helped remove from baby pajamas in 1977 is back in use.’ said Arlene Blum, PhD, a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley Chemistry Department and Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute (GSP). ‘And these baby products do not pose any fire hazard.’

Moreover, the addition of these chemicals to baby products and furniture to meet TB117 does not provide a fire safety benefit according to Dr. Vyto Babrauskas, a noted fire safety engineer and co-author of the only textbook written on the topic of fire safety and upholstered furniture who stated: ‘California’s TB117 does not achieve any useful fire safety purpose.’

‘With all these health problems and no proven fire safety benefit, why do we still have chlorinated tris in our furniture and baby products at levels up to twelve per cent of the weight of the foam’? asked Andrew McGuire, Policy Director of the GSP.  ‘Because Chemtura, Albermarle, and Israeli Chemicals Limited, the three flame retardants chemical producers, employ lobbyists and spend millions of dollars to prohibit government oversight and regulation of their toxic products.’ McGuire stated.

‘I am heart- broken that at age four my son’s body levels of flame retardants were like those of an industrial worker.’ said Holly S. Lohuis, a marine biologist with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society whose son was biomonitored.  According to Lohuis, ‘We are using our children as guinea pigs for toxic chemical experiments. It is not fair to them or to future generations.’

Legislation will be proposed in the state of California in 2012 to modify TB117 to provide equal or greater fire safety without the use of added chemicals.  ‘We could have fire safety without risking the health of our children, except for the lobbying of those who profit from the sale of the chemicals.’ McGuire added.