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Flawed California Law Makes Baby Products Toxic

Expert Opinion
Wednesday, January 29, 2023

by Arlene Blum and Rebecca Fuoco, Green Science Policy Institute

Compared to previous generations, today’s children have higher rates of serious health problems including allergies, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. In hundreds of animal studies, such conditions have been connected to chemicals used in consumer products. Organohalogen flame retardants, found at high levels in the foam in baby products and furniture, may be contributing to the rise in serious health problems in our children.

In January 2011, national outcry followed the release of our collaborative study finding 80% of baby products tested (including nursing pillows, changing table pads, strollers, sleeping wedges, portable crib mattresses, and car seats) contained organohalogen flame retardants associated with adverse health effects or lacking adequate health data. These chemicals leak from products into house dust, which humans, especially young children, frequently ingest due to hand-to-mouth behavior. They are from the same family and similar in structure to banned chemicals like PCBs and DDT so it is not surprising that they are linked to reduced IQ, learning disabilities, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption, and cancer. The most frequently detected chemical in the study of baby products was chlorinated Tris which was recently listed as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 in California and is a suspected developmental neurotoxin.

These chemicals continue to be used in baby products despite the fact that they provide no fire safety benefit as used in these products. The flame retardants are added to the polyurethane foam in these baby products and furniture to meet California’s flammability standard Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117). However, a recent analysis showed TB 117 does not actually slow product ignition and provides no extra escape time in a fire. Moreover, retardant-treated products do burn, and when they do, the chemicals combust to form carbon monoxide, toxic gases, and soot. Most fire deaths and most fire injuries actually result from inhalation of these gases.

What to do:

Because of increasingly widespread compliance with TB 117 nationwide, and because there are no labeling requirements for products containing these chemicals, it is difficult to discern which products contain them and which do not. We should be able to choose non-toxic products for our babies.

Your participation in advocacy for safer, more effective flammability regulations and chemical policies is powerful. With enough consumer support, this problem can be solved.

  • Voice your support for the modification or replacement of the obsolete California TB 117 to the Chief of the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. If you are out of California, you should copy your state representatives and/or governor (sample letter).
  • Write letters to manufacturers of baby products stating your preference for products free of chemical flame retardants.
  • Advocate for reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Ask your Senator to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act which would amend TSCA to better regulate chemicals in consumer products.

While we are striving for much needed regulatory reform, you can use the following tips to reduce you and your family’s exposure to toxic flame retardants:

  • Consider buying baby products that contain polyester, down, wool or cotton (not polyurethane foam) which are less likely to contain harmful flame retardant chemicals. Examples include BabyBjorn baby carriers, Boppy nursing pillows, and Baby Luxe polyester- and cotton-filled pads and mattresses.
  • Vacuum often (with a HEPA filter) and wet-mop to reduce build-up of dust in your home.
  • Wash hands frequently, as hand-to-mouth contact with dust is the major pathway for exposure.

Editors Note: On January 24, 2023, a bill to modernize Technical Bulletin 117 or TB 117, the ineffective California flame retardant standard that has led to the use of chemicals in foam for furniture and other products throughout the country known to be harmful to human health, was introduced in the California Legislature.

Authored by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Bill 2197 is strongly supported by a large coalition of firefighters, scientists, businesses, consumers, and public health advocates. AB 2197 will modernize TB 117 based on current fire safety science and years of research by the federal government. The new standard will provide increased fire safety without the use of toxic and untested chemicals. Read more here.

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Posted by marilyn  on  04/18/2023  at  08:32 PM

luckily at THE Futon Shop in California you have the choice to take out any chemical flame retardants in their mattresses and toppers. There are not a lot of compnaies that even mention this option or reveal that they put chemicals in their products. Trust is so important when buying something for you and your family

Posted by Alli  on  03/02/2023  at  02:57 PM

Thank you for the article!  I am wondering why flame retardants showed up in your 2011 study of nursing pillows and strollers when those products are exempt from TB 117?

Posted by Mary Gant  on  03/02/2023  at  12:29 PM

Bravo to Healthy Child Healthy World for including Dr. Blum’s article!  Every month another study is published in the scientific journals about the detrimental effects of flame retardants in furniture and baby products.  They are expecially harmful to cats and young children.

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