New Studies: Tots and Tumblers Face Toxic Chemical Threats

Toddlers and gymnasts have high levels of flame retardant chemicals; California moves on regulating some products

Toddlers and gymnasts have high levels of flame retardant chemicals; California moves on regulating some products

New research finds that babies and gymnasts share something in common, and unfortunately it’s not sugar and spice and everything nice—it’s high levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals in their bodies. In the wake of these studies, California announced rulemaking on some children’s products containing flame retardant chemicals.

One of the chemicals that is the focus of both the California rulemaking and the new studies is “chlorinated Tris” (also known as TDCPP or TDCIPP), which is of concern because it is a known cancer-causing chemical. Tris gained notoriety in the 1970’s as a bad-actor removed from kid’s pajamas; but unbelievably since then, this chemical has been used in the foam padding of furniture and baby products.

Scientists at the Environmental Working Group and Duke University tested moms and kids (2 months-6 years old) in California for evidence of exposure to Tris, and here’s what they found (along with results from other states for comparison):

Data from Hoffman 2015a, Hoffman 2015b, Butt 2014 and Butt 2016

On average, the kids had about fifteen times higher levels of the Tris break-down chemical in their bodies, compared to their moms! California children stood out for having the highest levels, perhaps due to that state’s outdated furniture flammability standard that was recently updated with the support of NRDC and many others.

The study also found that younger children had higher levels than older children, which is partly due to young kid’s increased contact with contaminated house dust. Flame retardants like Tris don’t stay put inside products—they off-gas or migrate out into indoor air and dust. Because babies and toddlers crawl, play on the floor and constantly put their hands in their mouths, they have much more exposure to the contaminated dust.

The trend of young children having significantly higher flame retardant levels than adults is consistent in other states and studies. But what’s worse, and also consistent, is that some kids have far more extreme exposures, with levels one hundred to two hundred times greater than adults:

Data from Hoffman 2015a, Hoffman 2015b, Butt 2014 and Butt 2016

Baby products like carriers, strollers, bassinets, and nap mats likely also play a role in babies’ higher exposures. Close contact with products containing Tris may result in breathing in more of the chemical or absorption through the skin.

Toxic, cancer-causing chemicals should not be in our products, especially products for babies. Fortunately, today California announced the start of rulemaking to regulate foam-padded children’s sleeping products containing two forms of chlorinated Tris under the Safer Consumer Products program.

While this is an important step, it is critical that the program be given the resources to move quickly to address these unhealthy products, as well as the numerous others that are on their work plan.

The irony is that experts agree that flame retardant chemicals are not needed in any of these products for fire safety. Most foam padded juvenile products are exempt from flammability regulations because they don’t pose fire hazards, and gymnastics facilities can now get foam items that are flame retardant-free—following the lead of this gym in Seattle. Companies that make these products should remove all flame retardant chemicals.

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