Conservation Minnesota

Flame Retardants Don’t Belong in Toddlers

Toddlers have nearly five times the level of a chlorinated organophosohate flame retardant in their bodies compared with their mothers.  In one child it was 23 times more! These are results of a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Duke University, “No Escape- Tests Find Fire Retardants in Mothers- Even More in Toddlers.” http://www.ewg.org/research/flame-retardants-2014 They tested the urine of mothers and toddlers for metabolites of six flame retardants used in polyurethane foam, including TDCPP (tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate), TCPP (tris (dichloropropyl) phosphate) and chemical components of Firemaster 550.

photos courtesy of CEH

photos courtesy of CEH

Why are these chemicals I can’t pronounce in kids’ bodies?
To answer this, we need to go back to 1975, when the state of California enacted Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117). TB 117 required that furniture and mattress manufacturers comply with an open flame flammability test. Because petrochemical-based polyurethane foam is inherently flammable, manufacturers routinely added flame retardants to their furniture and children’s products to comply with TB 117. For decades penta-BDE was the flame retardant of choice. In 2005 chemical companies agreed to take penta-BDE off the market in the U.S., because it was found to be toxic and was bio-accumulating in fish, wildlife and human breast-milk.

Without penta-BDE to meet TB 117 flammability requirements, manufacturers turned to a suite of alternative flame retardants for use in polyurethane foam, including Firemaster 550, TDCPP, TDPP and others. Unfortunately, while most of these chemicals are not as toxic or bioaccumulative as penta-BDE, they are nowhere near safe.

Exposure to TDCPP or TCPP is associated with increased risk for cancer in animals. There is also evidence that TDCPP adversely affects thyroid hormones and reproduction. Evidence of adverse effects on hormones, reproduction and development from exposure to chemical components of Firemaster 550 is emerging.

As of January 1, 2014, the TB 117 requirement was changed to a smolder test. So manufacturers of furniture and children’s products such as nap mats, changing table pads, no longer have to add flame retardants to their products that contain polyurethane foam. TB 117 does not regulate flame retardants so manufacturers can still choose to add them. On the whole, new furniture and children’s products should be safer.  The problem is we can’t all go out and buy new flame retardant-free furniture and children’s products, so we continue to be exposed to these toxic chemicals every day.  They are present in all of our homes, where they end up in household dust. Because children play on the floor and put their fingers in their mouths, they ingest higher levels of these chemicals than adults.

What can we do about it?

  • The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) the system that regulates industrial chemicals in the U.S. allows chemicals to be used in consumer products without adequate safety testing and fails to assure the safety of replacement chemicals.  TSCA must be reformed to assure that safety data is required before a chemical can be used in a product and to require the phase out of the worst chemicals, those known to be persistent, bioaccumulative or toxic.
  • Manufacturers should label all products that have added flame retardants, so consumers can choose products without added chemicals.
  • Manufacturers should phase out the use of added flame retardants in residential furniture and children products, through use of inherently nonflammable materials and barrier technology.
How can I reduce my exposure to toxic flame retardants?

  • Choose products without polyurethane foam.
  • If the label says: “This article meets the flammability requirements of California technical bulletin 117,” it likely contains added flame retardants.
  • Vacuum often and wet-mop to reduce dust in your home.

About Kathleen Schuler

Kathleen Schuler
Kathleen Schuler manages the Healthy Kids and Families program. With degrees in sociology and public health, Kathleen is perfectly situated to serve as the Co-Director of the Healthy Legacy coalition, which is a statewide network of advocacy organizations working to eliminate toxic chemicals from common consumer products.
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