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Study: Baby Products Contain Risky Flame Retardants

Researchers Say Chemicals Are in Products Such as Changing Pads and Car Seats
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

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.

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