Children’s Products

Introduction

Flame retardant chemicals were added to the foam in baby products such as carriers, strollers, and changing pads beginning in 1975 to meet a California furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117). Flame retardants have also been found in juvenile products such as sleep mats and crib mattresses that are not regulated by TB117.

This use of flame retardants in juvenile products is of particular concern as children and infants are very sensitive to the adverse health effects of these chemicals, some of which are carcinogens and developmental toxins. Additionally, children’s products do not present a significant fire hazard.

As of January 1, 2014, the old TB117 standard has been replaced by a new standard called TB117-2013, which makes children’s products exempt from California flammability standards. The Green Science Policy Institute continues to work with policy makers, scientists, and manufacturers to support implementation of the new standard.

New products will not be required to contain added flame retardants. However, during a transition period in 2014, the foam in baby products is likely to continue to contain flame retardants. Consumers should look for products without a TB117 label and also be sure to ask retailers for flame retardant free products.

It is important to note that car seats must comply with the federal motor vehicle flammability standard FMVSS 302 and will continue to contain flame retardants.

Peer-reviewed paper: Flame retardants in children’s products

In collaboration with Dr. Heather Stapleton at Duke University, in 2010 we tested the foam from 101 baby products including nursing pillows, changing table pads, sleep positioners and baby carriers.

We found that 80% of the products contained toxic or inadequately tested flame retardant chemicals in the foam. See sidebar for further details.

Babies are exposed to flame retardant chemicals in utero and through their mother’s milk. Since young children play and crawl on the floor and put their hands in their mouths, they can also accidentally ingest more house dust contaminated with flame retardants.

These chemicals are linked to numerous health concerns to which fetuses, infants and children are sensitive, including toxicity to the developing brain and reproductive system.

Young children are more vulnerable to flame retardant chemicals

Graph shows that, on average, children 1.5-4 years old have about three times higher levels of flame retardants in their blood compared to their mothers. Data from Lunder 2010.

Some of the flame retardants we found in baby products:

  • TDCPP (chlorinated Tris), removed from use in baby pajamas in 1978 and listed as a carcinogen by California in 2011
  • Firemaster 550, associated with obesity and anxiety in animal studies
  • Penta-BDE, (pentabrominated diphenyl ether) globally banned due to toxicity and environmental persistence

These flame retardants are all called organohalogens as they contain carbon bonded to bromine or chlorine.

Read the full study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. This study was ES&T’s top science paper of 2011.

FR exposure children

Research project: Flame retardants in nursery schools

In 2011 and 2012, the Green Science Policy tested 57 foam samples from juvenile products, furniture, and other products collected at local nursery and preschools schools for organohalogen flame retardants. We found that 90% of these products contained the flame retardants. All of the 29 nap mats tested contained such flame retardants.
tech-117

The new flammability standard, TB117-2013, should make flame retardant-free products increasingly available in the months to come. TB117-2013 does not ban the use of flame retardants, so it is important to verify with the retailer or manufacturer that a product is flame retardant-free.

Policy Changes

After the GSP Safe Kids Campaign produced research for our paper identifying harmful flame retardants in baby products was completed in 2010, California BHFTI exempted strollers, infant carriers and nursing pillows from TB117.

In 2013, TB117 was replaced by a new standard, TB117-2013. In addition to improving the compliance test for furniture, TB117-2013 exempts most additional juvenile products that contain foam:

  • bassinets
  • booster seats
  • car seats*
  • changing pads
  • floor play mats
  • highchairs
  • highchair pads
  • infant bouncers
  • infant seats
  • infant swings
  • infant walkers
  • nursing pads
  • playpen side pads
  • playards
  • portable hook-on chairs

Under the new standard, in effect as of January 1, 2014, exempted items do not require a label. Read more in our blog.
*Car seats must comply with the federal motor vehicle flammability standard FMVSS 302 and will continue to contain flame retardants.

Re-use versus disposal of flame retarded baby products

Baby products containing polyurethane foam and labeled that they meet California furniture flammability standard Technical Bulletin 117 are likely to contain flame retardants. In order to reduce children’s exposure, parents might consider replacing such baby products and not handing them down to friends or to younger children. Flame retardant free baby products should become increasingly available during 2014.

Green Science Policy Institute and others are researching safe disposal options for TB117 products containing flame retardant treated foams. At present, disposal in a land fill seems a better option than continuing to use and reuse such products.

Resources

Press: Children’s Products

CBS5 ConsumerWatch: Health expert warns of toxic chemical in Califor…

Many parents who wouldn't dream of exposing their babies to toxic chemicals may inadvertently be doing just that by purchasing nursing pillows and car seats that conform t…

26 May 2013

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Berkeleyside: Testing Berkeley homes for hazards: What we found

Tong Xiao and Belinda Lyons-Newman recently tested a number of North Berkeley homes for chemical health hazards following scientifi…

05 Mar 2013

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NBC Nightly News: Sofas may contain harmful chemicals

Watch on NBC: Sofas may contain harmful chemicals

09 Dec 2012

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Chicago Tribune: New Calif. standards could reduce flame retardants

From the Chicago Tribune California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday called for a sweeping overhaul of his state's 1970s-era flammabi…

19 Jun 2012

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Science & Policy Blog: Children’s Products

Ten years later, flame retardant ban good news for baby

A new study published today in Environmental Science & Technology has some good news for a change. The authors found dramatic declines in the levels of toxic flame re…

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Dangerous inheritance: When chemicals pass from mom to baby

I can only imagine the joy parents must feel when they look at their baby’s face and see something of themselves in it. My own father proudly takes credit for my blue eye…

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First-in-the-nation report on chemicals in kids’ products

Recently, my niece and nephew stopped by a neighborhood street fair.  There was the usual fare but most fun, as far as the kids were concerned, was the face painting.  My…

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Environmental injustice

Vulnerable communities bear higher burdens of flame retardants A recent study of Mexican-American children in California found that those who live in areas with little a…

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Flame retardant chemicals: from couches to kids

Our new study with Dr. Heather Stapleton of Duke University looking at flame retardants in 102 American couches was published today in Environmental Science & Technol…

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Possible connection between flame retardants and autism in animal st…

A new study from UC Davis found that female mice exposed to a component of the pentaBDE flame retardant in the womb showed changes in their brains, impaired learning, mem…

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Children's protection from vaccines weakened by halogenated chemical…

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Philippe Grandjean, et al. found that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) may reduce children's prote…

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Presentations: Healthy Children’s Products

Halogenated flame retardants: A global concern

Arlene Blum, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Dept. of Chemistry, UC Berkeley Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium 2012: Do flame …

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