Children’s Products


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 were 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.

On January 1, 2014, the old TB117 standard was replaced by a new standard called TB117-2013. Under this new standard, children’s products are exempt from California furniture flammability standards. See Policy Changes below for a list of exempted products. The Green Science Policy Institute continues to work with policy makers, scientists, and manufacturers to support implementation of the new standard.

New products are not expected to contain added flame retardants. However, there will be a transition period while older products are sold off. Until new products are widely available in stores, the foam in baby products is likely 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. However, the correct use of children’s car seats is important for ensuring safety.

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

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 Institute tested 57 foam samples from juvenile products, furniture, and other products collected at local nursery schools and preschools for organohalogen flame retardants. We found that 90% of these products – and all 29 nap mats tested – contained such flame retardants.

The new flammability standard, TB117-2013, should make products without flame retardants increasingly available. 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 that are labeled as meeting 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 thanks to California’s new furniture flammability regulation TB117-2013.

Green Science Policy Institute and others are researching safe disposal options for foam-filled and plastic products containing flame retardants. At present, disposal in a land fill seems a better option than continuing to use and reuse such products.


Press: Children’s Products

CBS Local: California Kids Have Higher Levels Of Flame Retardant Che…

Watch Just weeks after congress passed a law giving the Environmental Protection Agency more power to ban harmful chemicals; a new study demonstrates just …

11 Jul 2016

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Chemical Watch: US House considers modifying flammability standards …

Congressman Jared Huffman (D–California) has introduced legislation to revise the federal flammability standard for children's car seats. This would al…

03 Jun 2016

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CBS Local: Fire-Suppressing Foam’s Toxic Chemicals Detected In Calif…

Watch Video When disaster strikes on a runway, fire suppressing foam can be a lifesaver. For decades, however, there was a hidden danger in the foam itsel…

17 May 2016

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AJ+: Is Your House Toxic?

Watch Video The shampoo in your shower, the foam in your mattress, your TV, couch, carpet, pillows...chemicals are everywhere. And they aren't all safe. …

25 Mar 2016

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Dr. Oz Show: Are there carcinogens in children's pajamas?

Watch Video By law, children's pajamas have to meet flammability standards to keep your kids safe from fires. And, people are asking questions a…

09 Mar 2016

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CBS: Popular car seats found to contain flame retardant

Watch Video Limiting a child's exposure to toxic chemicals is a big issue for many parents, but finding eco-friendly products may cost more than a thousand …

21 Dec 2015

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Counsel & Heal: Researchers Identified Flame Retardant, TCEP in Amer…

Americans are contaminated with many toxic flame retardants, a new study reported. According to the researchers at the Silent Spring Institute and the Uni…

12 Nov 2014

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SF Chronicle: Hazardous flame retardants ubiquitous in preschools

Flame retardants are ubiquitous at preschools and day care centers, potentially exposing children to chemicals that are hazardous to their health, U…

15 May 2014

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More Magazine: The 4th annual Fierce List – Sofa, so good

More Magazine published their 4th annual "Fierce List", profiling "Fifty women so forceful and resourceful, untiring and inspiring, they'll jolt your brain, bolster your faith, and feed your soul." Th…

01 May 2014

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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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Science & Policy Blog: Children’s Products

A Day in the Life at GSP: Veronica Chin

Out with the old, in with the new! Swapping old couches for new ones sounds simple enough. But when you’re doing it for twelve homes it gets complicated - phone calls, de…

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Forty years later TSCA gets an overhaul

In June, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (TSCA reform, hereafter), a revision to the 1976 Toxic Substance…

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Monitoring chemicals in our environment with wristbands

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A Perfect Storm

The phrase “a perfect storm” has gone from wildly popular to wildly unpopular. Detractors say it should be banned due to overuse. But it’s not banned yet. A perfec…

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Lead in Water Action Kits Now Available

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“Remove the Handle” – Calling on the CPSC to Turn Off the Toxic Pump

Should you ever find yourself enjoying a pint at London’s John Snow Pub, you might raise a glass to the pub’s namesake, Dr. John Snow, the “father of epidemiology.” In th…

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Four times breast cancer risk linked to prenatal DDT exposure

Barking up the wrong branch of the family tree For years scientists studied women who were exposed to DDT as adults. An analysis of existing research found “no signifi…

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Flame Retardants in Car Seats—Do We Need Them?

Car seats are essential to protecting children in cars. Due to a federal motor vehicle flammability standard, many materials in automobiles, including car seats, contain …

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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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