Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flame Retardents - What's the scoop?

It's been all over the news the last few months and weeks so you may be wondering, what's the scoop?

A recent study published in "Environmental Science and Technology" looked at the flame-retardant chemicals used in dozens of baby products. "The objective of this study was to survey a large number of baby products that contain polyurethane foam to investigate whether flame retardant chemicals were present and to determine the concentrations in the foam." The samples consisted of polyurethane foam from baby products including car seats, strollers, changing table pads, nursing pillows, portable crib mattresses,infant sleep positioners,high chairs, nursery rocking chairs/gliders, baby walkers, baby carriers, and miscellaneous bathroom items.

The Results:
The results (page 21 and 22 of the study) show that

-80% of the baby products tested in this study contained a known and identifiable flame retardant, and all but one of these flame retardants were either brominated or chlorinated - the two most toxic types of flame retardants!

-5% contained the chemical Penta, which was banned by almost a dozen states as a neurotoxin.

-9% had small amounts of the chemical TCEP, which California has stated is a human carcinogen.

-36% had chlorinated tris labeled as a "probably carcinogen" by to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

So what's the concern?
Flame retardant chemicals are known to migrate from the product into the air, by turning to dust, so children [and adults] can be exposed twice - through skin contact and also through breathing. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens. Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,"is concerned about, not only cancer, but reproductive or neurological effects as well, with the developing brain." The study also points out that "infants are in a very sensitive development stage and may be more susceptible to adverse effects than an older child or adult". Another study revealed that "children with higher concentrations of PBDEs, another type of flame retardant, in their initial cord blood scored lower on tests of mental and physical development at 12–48 and 72 months". Furthermore, a study published in the Envirnomental Health News showed that "high levels of brominated flame retardants can alter pregnant women’s thyroid hormones, which are critical to a baby’s growth and brain development".

In February, Walmart announced that it would bypasses federal regulators to ban controversial PBDE flame retardants. In my humble opinion, when a large corporation like Walmart BANS a chemical and possibly forgoes revenue, we should take notice.

So now what?
It's impossible to know if every product you purchase contains flame retardants but there are a few things you can do to limit exposure. Here are a few practical solutions:

-Avoid products labeled as meeting California TB 117. This is an out-dated law that requires fire retardants. Even if you don't live in California, it still affects you since manufacturers don't make two different products.

-Since you cannot tell by looking, call the manufacturer and ask if any flame retardants were used.

-Wash hands regularly. Flame retardants end up in our household dust, which ends up on our hands.

-Capture dust. Wipe surfaces and hard wood flooring with a damp cloth or mop. For carpets, vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly.

-Wipe your screens. Electronics contain flame retardants. Some of the most contaminated dust is that found on TV and computer screens. Wipe them regularly and wash hands after touching them.

-Purchase snug-fitting pajamas for little ones. Carters, Old Navy, Children's Place and others make snug-fitting pajamas that clearly state that there are no flame retardants (usually on a big yellow tag).

-Purchase products made from organic materials. These will not contain flame retardants.

-Purchase mattresses that do not contain flame retardants. Naturepedic carries infant through adult bedding. They also make infant changing pads.

-Purchase chemical-free wool rugs - wool is naturally fire retardant.

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