A study of products designed for babies and toddlers – including car seats, nursing pillows, changing pads, bassinet mattresses and other items made with polyurethane foam – found that 80% of products tested contained chemical flame retardants considered toxic, according to a peer-reviewed study published today in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal. The same flame retardants are also found in children’s bodies and widely dispersed throughout the environment and in food.
The study analyzed 102 products for the presence of halogenated flame retardants. Interior foam samples were tested from nursing pillows, baby carriers, car seats, changing table pads, high chairs, bassinets, portable cribs, walkers, changing pads, baby carriers, sleeping wedges, a baby tub insert, stroller, bath slings, glider rockers, and other essential child care items. Samples were submitted from locations around the United States, including two samples from Maine.
Tracy Gregoire and Steve Taylor of Topsham sent samples to the national study from the nursing pillow and bassinet mattress they used for their now two-year old son Jasiah. The nursing pillow tested positive for Tris 2-chloro-ethyl phosphate (TCEP). TCEP was found in ten out of eleven nursing pillows analyzed. Newborn babies often spend hours each day lying on nursing pillows; thus there is a high level of contact to babies and their mothers to this product and the flame retardants which readily escape from the pillows.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that the pillow I used to cradle my son contains chemicals that can cause long term harm to his health. I am a well informed mother, yet given the lack of regulation, there’s just no way for parents like me to ensure toxic chemicals aren’t in the products I buy for my son,” said Tracy Gregoire, the Healthy Children’s Project Director for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine.
The nursing pillow from Maine was one of fourteen products tested that contained TCEP, a carcinogenic flame retardant on California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals. Laboratory animal studies show TCEP causes tumors in the kidney and thyroid glands. In other laboratory animal studies, TCEP has been shown to cause reductions in fertility and poor sperm quality and to interfere with brain signaling, causing hyperactivity. TCEP is no longer produced in Europe and has been identified by Canada as posing a risk to human health.
“This study clearly shows the need for chemical policy reform at the federal level,” said Steve Taylor, Program Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine based public health organization that has led successful campaigns to phase out use of flame retardants known as Penta, Octa and Deca in electronics, mattresses, shipping pallets, and other products sold in Maine. “Maine lawmakers have taken important steps to protect people from exposure to toxic flame retardants however we can’t go it alone. We’re asking Senators Snowe and Collins to support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to ensure there’s a federal law that works to ensure common consumer products are safe for our families.”
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the federal law tasked with regulating use of chemicals in the U.S. but TSCA is widely perceived to have failed to protect public health, having regulated only 5 chemicals in its 35 years of existence out of the 80,000 chemicals in use in the U.S.
An effort to strengthen TSCA is underway in Congress in the form of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 sponsored by Senator Lautenberg. This bill would require basic health and safety data for chemicals, reduce exposure to the most harmful chemicals, identify and address “hot spots” where people are more exposed to toxic chemicals, and prevent new harmful chemicals from hitting the marketplace unless they are tested and found to be reasonably safe.
The baby products study, Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products, is available in the current issue of the Environmental Science & Technology Journal. Other results from the new baby product testing include:
- Four products contained penta-BDE, a substance so toxic it is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states including Maine, and subject to a national phaseout.
- 29 products contained TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas over health concerns in the late 1970s. In animal studies, chlorinated Tris has been associated with cancer of the liver, kidney, brain and testis, among other harmful effects.
- 16 products contained Firemaster 550/600 flame retardants for which EPA has predicted toxicity concerns and required additional testing.
- 14 products contained TCPP, which is similar in chemical structure to Chlorinated Tris and TCEP and has limited health information.
“Toxic or untested flame retardants like the ones found in this study can migrate out of products and end up in our homes and our bodies. These chemicals are associated with reduced IQ, increased time to pregnancy, endocrine and thyroid disruption, and impaired child development,” says Arlene Blum, PhD, a co-author of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. Blum’s early research contributed to the removal of Tris flame retardants from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s. “I was surprised to find Tris back in high levels in the foam in baby products.”
According to Environmental Health News, researchers have found that adults in the United States have average levels of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies that are 20 times higher than Europeans. A study in California found households tested had 200 times more brominated flame retardants in household dust than European homes. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that over 90% of the U.S. population carries flame retardants in their bodies.
Amanda Sears is the associate director at the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center.