Flame Retardants Dangerous for Children



Despite ongoing efforts to ban toxic flame retardants, these chemicals continue to be present in a variety of children’s products, from pajamas to mattresses. And while it is possible to limit exposure to them, it’s impossible to avoid them completely. Flame retardants have been associated with numerous ailments and serious health issues, including learning disorders, decreased IQ, infertility and cancer.

While it may be puzzling that these chemicals are still prevalent in some manufacturing, the reason becomes more apparent with closer a look at the chemical industry, which spends millions of dollars supporting the use of flame retardants, contending that the bigger problem is the fire these chemicals supposedly protect children from. But, in fact, products made with flame retardants can and still do catch fire, releasing higher levels of toxic chemicals. In fact, firefighters are at the top of the list of those seeking a permanent ban on this type of chemicals.

The Dangers of PBDEs

Many people agree that a ban on flame retardants is necessary. “Protecting children from fire doesn’t require exposing them to toxic chemicals,” says Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, campaign director for Washington Toxics Coalition.

Unfortunately, children will always be exposed to some of these chemicals, but banning even one could help and potentially start a strong movement to ban all of them.

When the effects of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) are combined with other chemical exposures such as pesticides, the results can be serious and long lasting. Numerous tests have revealed highly elevated levels of flame retardants in the breast milk of American women—significantly higher than in that of women in European countries, where PBDE is not allowed.

In addition, flame retardants were present in every sample of household dust in a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group. Not only are dust particles inhalable, but they can easily end up on children’s hands and mouths.

Protecting Children from Toxins

Given the fact that flame retardants aren’t required to be specifically labeled, it’s hard for parents to know which products are safe for their children.

David Spittal, owner of Healthy Choice Organic Mattress in Mount Kisco says many of his customers are moms seeking “the healthiest start to their baby’s life.” For anyone interested in sleeping in a chemical-free environment, he recommends making sure polyurethane is not listed as an ingredient on any mattress.

Maine recently passed a law to phase out all flame-retardant chemicals in home furniture, possibly paving the way for more legislation to ban PBDE.

In the meantime, research any product before buying it. Alternative materials such as cotton and wool are better options than chemically treated foam. If an item is labeled “This article meets the flammability requirements of California,” don’t buy it. Avoid any baby product that contains plastic foam; highchairs, strollers, car seats and nursing pillows are among the many products that may contain harmful flame retardants. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can help clean up chemical-filled dust.

Being educated and aware of the harm flame retardants can cause can help parents make informed decisions when it comes to protecting their children.

For more information about how to avoid VOC exposure in the bedroom, visit Healthy Choice Organic Mattress, located at 681 East Main St., Mt. Kisco, NY; call 914.241.2467; or visit HCMattress.com.

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