Potentially Harmful Flame Retardants Found In Many Baby Products

Baby products that include polyurethane foam are required by law to meet California furniture flammability standards, but manufacturers aren’t required to include information about the flame retardants they use on product labels. A small, peer reviewed study out this month suggests that most of these products do include flame retardants – some that could have dangerous health effects.

Duke University environmental chemist Healther Stapleton, Ph.D., and colleagues collected foam samples from 101 commonly used products like car seats, changing table pads, sleep positioners, nursing pillows and portable mattresses. Eighty of the samples contained flame retardants, though what that means for babies is unclear.

“It’s difficult to comment on specific human health effects associated with these compounds because many are not well studied,” says Stapleton. The best-studied flame retardant, PBDEs (found in the PentaBDE formulation), was phased out in 2004, but was still found in five of the samples Stapleton collected. And research published during the past two years has shown an association between PBDEs and altered thyroid hormone levels, fertility issues and lower developmental scores in children.

“To my knowledge there are no studies examining human health effects for the other flame retardants,” says Stapleton. However, TDCPP (the flame retardant the study found most often) is a suspected carcinogen and TCEP (present in 15% of Stapleton’s samples) is a known carcinogen. There are also concerns about the potential for TDCPP to be toxic to the nervous system. No studies, Stapleton says, have directly looked at health effects of these chemicals in infants.

At present there is no way for parents to tell whether products they purchase for their children contain flame retardants. But if a product contains polyurethane foam and has a label stating that it meets the flammability standards for California Technical Bulletin 117, “there is a very high likelihood that the foam is treated with flame retardants,” says Stapleton.

Her study was published online May 18 in Environmental Science & Technology.