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Toxic Flame Retardants are Hidden and Harmful

By Karen Einisman, Women's Cancer Action

IStock_000005757801MediumParenting. It’s the hardest job I have ever had. From the minute my children were born, I took on the  responsibility of keeping them safe. While I was still pregnant, I painstakingly researched the perfect stroller, the safest car seat, the best high chair. The list went on and on. But, it wasn’t until I started paying attention to the chemical problem in this country that I realized that all of my preparation didn’t truly help me protect my children from serious harm.

Take the new study released today, for example, that found 80 percent of all baby products tested contained chemical flame retardants that are considered toxic…80 percent! The study, published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science & Technology Journal, analyzed 101 children’s products for flame retardants. A wide range of products—from nursing pillows to high chairs and everything in between—were sent in from around the country and tested.

Almost one-third of the tested products contained TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, a possible human carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas over health concerns when I was a kid.  Chlorinated Tris has been linked to cancer of the liver, kidney, brain and testis.  And, that’s just one of the chemical flame retardant mentioned in this study. The list of flame retardants found in these popular baby products is an alphabet soup of acronyms that no parent should have to memorize.

According to Arlene Blum, PhD, co-author of this study, flame retardants migrate out of the products and into our homes and our bodies, affecting IQ levels, disrupting hormones and impairing development. In fact, experts say that these chemicals are linked to some of today’s biggest health problems.

That’s why I have been avoiding flame retardants in pajamas (yes, they substituted chlorinated tris for another toxic flame retardant) ever since my pediatrician warned me about them—an easy task since they are labeled. Most products are not.

Until I started paying attention to the issue of toxic chemical reform, I had no idea the extent to which these chemicals were present in the very things I used to keep my kids safe! It’s horrifying to think that my children’s bedrooms and playrooms were and are filled with toxic substances that can seriously harm them. The unfortunate news that this study brings is a blatant reminder of why we need toxic chemical reform in this country. Hopefully, by the time my kids have kids, they won’t have to have a degree in chemistry to go shopping.

What are the concerns about toxic flame retardants?

A new study* found that 80% of baby products tested contained toxic flame retardants. Products tested included nursing pillows, car seats, sleeping wedges, portable crib mattresses, baby carriers, strollers and changing table pads. Toxic flame retardants were prevalent in products that contained polyurethane foam. The chemicals can leak from the foam and get into dust, which gets on to hands and food, exposing children through ingestion and inhalation. Flame retardants found in foam baby products include neurotoxin penta-BDE (already banned in MN and 11 other states) and chlorinated tris, which was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s because it was a suspected carcinogen.

Tips to Reduce Exposure**

  1. Keep dust levels down by wet mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
  2. Wash your hands and your children’s hands often.
  3. Purchase new and used baby products and furniture filled with cotton, polyester or wool, rather than polyurethane foam.
  4. Avoid products containing polyurethane foam and have a TB117 label (California fire retardant standard), which are likely to contain chemical flame retardants.
  5. Write or call the manufacturer to inquire whether the product contains flame retardants.
  6. Find out more and take action at and
  7. Safe brands include:

•    BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses
•    BabyBjorn baby carriers
•    OrbitBaby strollers and car seats
•    Boppy nursing pillows

*Stapleton HM, Klosterhaus S, Keller A, Ferguson PL et al. Identification of flame retardants in polyurethane foam collected from baby products. Environmental Science and Technology, online May 18, 2011.

**Adapted from “Flame Retardants in Baby Products: What You Can Do”, Green Science Policy Institute,


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Hi Alexandra,

Thanks for your feedback! You're exactly right about the obstacle course of toxic chemicals--it shouldn't be such a challenge to choose safe products for our children!

That's why we're working to change policies--so that parents don't have to have a PhD to make safe choices.

Kudos on your blog, too! It looks like you are doing quite a bit to promote a green environment with your B & B!

Healthy Legacy

Thank you for writing this post. So important! I used to live in France, where the clothing for kids was not treated with flame retardants. I remember bringing back an American pajama for my son from the USA. Now I'm glad he had only one like that! Life for new mothers has become an obstacle course with all the toxic chemicals in the environment.

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