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Study: Baby Products Contain Risky Flame Retardants

Four out of five baby products tested in a new study contained potentially toxic flame retardants, including one removed from children's pajamas almost four decades ago.

May 18, 2011 -- Four out of five baby products tested in a new study contained potentially toxic flame retardants, including one removed from children's pajamas almost four decades ago.

The products, which were not identified by brand, included nursing pillows, changing pads, portable crib mattresses, baby carriers, and car seats.

But two industry groups say baby products meet federal safety standards.

The study is published in Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers tested 101 widely sold baby products, finding that 80% contained chemical flame retardants and 36% contained chlorinated Tris, the chemical no longer used in children's pajamas in response to concerns about its safety.

They did not examine how much of the chemicals babies were exposed to when the products were used.

But study researcher and chemist Arlene Blum, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, tells WebMD that finding fire retardants in such a wide range of baby products is cause for concern.

Blum is founder of the Green Policy Science Institute in Berkley, Calif. Her earlier research led to the removal of chlorinated Tris from children's pajamas in the 1970s.

"Nursing pillows and changing pads are not the first items to ignite during a fire," she says. "These products pose no fire hazard, but most of them do contain toxic chemicals and parents don't know it."

Flame Retardants in Baby Products

Flame retardants are commonly added during the manufacture of polyurethane foam. Some chemical retardants have been tested to determine if they pose a health risk.

When Blum and colleagues had polyurethane foam samples from 101 products analyzed, they found concentrations of flame retardants ranging from around 3% to 12% of the foam's total weight.

Among the other findings:

  • Chlorinated Tris, also known as TDCPP, was the most common flame retardant detected.
  • Fourteen products contained TCEP, a flame retardant identified as a probable carcinogen by California, according to Blum.
  • Five of the samples contained compounds associated with Penta-BDE, a flame retardant banned in Europe and many other countries and voluntarily phased out by manufacturers in this country seven years ago.

Environmental Science & Technology Editor in Chief Jerald L. Schnoor, PhD, says while the study established the presence of fire retardants in baby products containing foam, more study is needed to determine if this poses a health risk.

Schnoor is a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. "This would require studies to first determine if volatile compounds are leaching from these plastics that babies could be exposed to through the skin or air," he tells WebMD.

It is also important to determine if these chemicals are showing up in the blood or fatty tissue of babies and young children and if they cause any ill effects when they do, he says.

"That's a lot of testing, and if these chemicals are not in these products to begin with, it stops there," he adds.

Industry Response

In a statement released Wednesday in response to the study, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association noted that all baby products sold in the U.S. must meet federal safety standards.

"Not only do these safety standards contain flammability requirements, they also restrict the use of substances that are harmful or toxic and to which children might be exposed," the group notes. "Compliance with the flammability requirements is often achieved by using materials that are inherently flame resistant."

The chemical industry trade group American Chemistry Council (ACC) also notes that the chemical flame retardants found in the tested products meet federal safety guidelines.

"Flame retardants are well-studied and provide important fire safety benefits in homes, cars and public areas," ACC spokeswoman Kathyrn St. John says in a statement. "This study attempts to examine the existence of certain flame retardants in a small sampling of children's products: it doesn't address exposure risk."

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