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May 18, 2011
Embargoed until May 18, 2011 12:01 am EST
Toxic Chemicals Pervasive in Baby Products
New Study Finds Hazardous & Untested Flame Retardants In Products Made for Infants and Children
Health and Consumer Advocates Call on Product Makers to Reject Unnecessary Chemicals
(Washington, DC) A study of products designed for newborns, babies, and toddlers – including car seats, breast feeding pillows, changing pads, crib wedges, bassinet mattresses and other items made with polyurethane foam – – found that 80% of products tested contained chemical flame retardants that are considered toxic, according to a peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science & Technology Journal. Other retardants discovered had so little health and safety data on them it is not possible to know their effects at this time. The same flame retardants found in some of the products are also found in children’s bodies and widely dispersed throughout the environment and in food.
The new study analyzed 101 products for the presence of halogenated flame retardants. Interior foam samples were tested from nursing pillows, baby carriers, car seats, changing table pads, high chairs, strollers, bassinets, portable cribs, walkers, changing pads, baby carriers, sleeping wedges, baby tub insert, bath slings, glider rockers, and other essential child care items. Samples were submitted from purchase locations around the United States.
• 16 products contained Firemaster 550/600 flame retardants. EPA has predicted toxicity
and required additional testing.
• 14 products contained TCPP, which is similar in chemical structure to Chlorinated Tris
and TCEP and has limited health information.
Consumer Advocates and Environmental Health Groups single out an antiquated California regulation, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), as the reason for widespread use of flame retardants in baby products. Many product manufacturers make their products so that they can also be sold in California. Those that use polyurethane foam in their goods must meet TB 117. This results in population-wide exposure to dangerous, unnecessary flame retardants.
Baby products purchased outside California may still be treated with hazardous flame retardants. Because of California TB 117, Americans everywhere are subject to chronic exposure to toxic or untested chemicals. Findings from the new Baby Product testing study reveal that many products purchased outside California carry a TB 117-compliant label and many are treated with chemical flame retardants. Products that contain polyurethane foam and are sold in California almost certainly carry those chemicals.
The Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety, a new national network of health, consumer, and environmental groups, is calling for a modernization of California TB 117 in light of new scientific, health, environmental, and fire toxicity information about chemical flame retardants. They are calling for urgent action on this public health issue.
“The sensible way to prevent fires is not to subject the entire population to an indoor air experiment with carcinogens and other toxics,” said Kathy Curtis, campaign coordinator for the Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety. “Companies should make products without flame retardants for all of the other states that haven’t adopted California’s costly and outdated TB 117 rule. Research shows the addition of flame retardants to meet this standard doesn’t prevent fires. Moreover, when products with these chemicals do burn, they make the smoke far more toxic. Product makers should switch to inherently flame-resistant materials, make design changes or use less toxic chemical ingredients so fire fighters and victims of fire are better protected when these materials burn.”
Mike Schade, from Center for Health Environment & Justice also with ATFFS, said, “Many retailers, including Wal-Mart, are not waiting for government regulations to make changes. The Washington Post has reported that Wal-Mart informed its suppliers and customers it will no longer carry products with certain harmful flame retardant chemicals.”
“Toxic or untested flame retardants like the ones found in this study can migrate out of products and end up in our homes and our bodies. These chemicals are associated with adverse human health effects including reduced IQ, increased time to pregnancy, endocrine and thyroid disruption, and impaired child development,” says Arlene Blum, PhD, a co-author of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. Blum’s early research contributed to the removal of Tris flame retardants from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s. Blum says, “I was surprised to find Tris back in high levels in the foam in baby products.”
“Scientific research increasingly links some of today’s growing health problems with exposure to the types of halogenated flame retardant chemicals found in these baby products,” said Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. “Lowered IQ, reproductive problems --including the time it takes to get pregnant and sperm quality-- and abnormalities in male baby genitalia have all been linked to flame retardant chemical exposure. If this wasn’t concerning enough, only a small number of flame retardants have undergone safety testing. We need federal reform of our chemical policy laws to ensure the chemicals we bring into our homes are safe.”
“I can't think of anything more unnecessary than toxic flame retardant chemicals in breast feeding pillows and infant car seats," said Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior scientist, Sonya Lunder. "American babies have years of exposure to these hazardous substances, because the chemical industry has lobbied to include them in a long list of common products. We must protect children from fire dangers, but let's focus on the riskiest sources."
According to Environmental Health News, researchers have found that U.S. adults have 20 times more of the flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than Europeans. Household dust tested in two areas of California had 200 times more brominated flame retardants than European homes. A recent study found that low income Mexican-American school children in California are apt to have 7 times more PBDE flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than Mexican children of the same age. The 7-year old Californians tested had more of the chemicals in their bodies than almost all people tested worldwide. Only Nicaraguan children living or working on hazardous waste sites have higher levels. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that over 90% of the U.S. population carries PBDE flame retardants in their bodies.
Three corporations produce halogenated flame retardant chemicals: Albemarle, Chemtura, and Israeli Chemicals, Ltd. Chemtura’s product, Firemaster 550, exemplifies how new chemicals enter the American market. Chemtura Corporation first marketed Firemaster 550 in 2004 as an environmentally friendly replacement for pentaBDE, which was subject to a national phase-out that same year due to health concerns and, notably, which had been grandfathered in as ‘safe’ - without supporting data - when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976. When the notice of manufacture was filed with the Environmental Protection Agency for Firemaster 550, EPA did not require pre-market testing of the chemical. Instead, EPA relied on the manufacturers own determination of safety. They also approved Chemtura’s confidentiality request for the two main ingredients in Firemaster 550, even though company test data showed the ingredients were a "high hazard concern" for both short-term and long-term ecotoxicity, meaning they could cause damage to fish, invertebrates or algae if they got into the water. Since then, Firemaster 550 has been found in house dust in Boston and in sewage sludge and wastewater plants in California, as well as baby products sold across America.
Halogenated flame retardants added to fabric, to foam used in furniture and other products, to carpet padding, and to electronic equipment, also create more smoke and soot when these materials smolder or burn than do materials without these chemicals. And the smoke is deadly. First, inhalation can be deeply damaging to lungs. Fire fighters wear protective gear, but gear may not always function as intended. Second, intense smoke can be disorienting and disabling, making it impossible for fire fighters and building occupants to reach safety when surrounded by dense smoke and soot.
Smoke can also carry toxic chemicals, including carbon monoxide, a deadly gas, and dioxins and furans, produced when chlorinated or brominated flame retardants burn. Dioxins and furans are some of the most toxic substances known, and have been associated with certain cancers, including soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adult-onset leukemia, multiple myeloma, breast cancer, bladder cancer and stomach cancer. These chemicals are also associated with chloracne, cardiovascular disease, diabetes II, thyroid dysfunction and immune suppression.
Firefighters have a higher incidence of heart disease, lung disease, and cancer compared to other workers. Getting chlorinated and brominated flame retardants out of their working environment could help reduce their chances of becoming ill.
The fire safety benefits of adding flame retardants to meet the TB117 flammability standard are questionable. According to Vyto Babrauskas, the author of Fire Behavior of Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses, (William Andrew Publishing, Norwich NY 2001), the only textbook ever written on furniture flammability, TB117 is “so weak that it does not achieve any useful fire safety purpose." TB117 tests bare foam’s resistance to a small flame. But the foam in furniture lies beneath a layer of fabric. The fabric will ignite first and by the time the flame reaches the foam, it is too large for the chemicals that meet TB117 to have an effect.
Alternatives to organohalogen flame retardant chemicals include using less flammable materials, design changes, and safer chemicals. Stronger electrical codes and modernized building and fire codes, as well as increased use of smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, and self-extinguishing cigarettes, will all continue to help prevent fires without using toxic chemicals. These measures plus an overall decrease in cigarette smoking in the U.S. have helped reduce fire deaths by 60% since 1980, making increasing use of chemical flame retardants unwise and unnecessary.
Available for Interviews
Arlene Blum PhD, co-author of study, Executive Director and Founder, Green Science Policy Institute 510.644.3164, Arlene@GreenSciencePolicy.org.
Kathy Curtis, Policy Director, Clean New York 518.708.3922 (cell) 518.355.6202 (home office) firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.clean-ny.org
Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, 415.875.6126, email@example.com. Dr. Janssen can address health effects linked to flame retardant chemicals exposure.
Sonya Lunder, MPH EWG Senior Scientist, Environmental Working Group, volunteered product sample for study contact Alex Formuzis, 202.667.6982, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Gerhardt, Michigan Ecology Center, 734.663.2400 x117. Jeff has experience with flame retardant product testing.
Judith Robinson, study volunteer and mother of two young children. Associate Director, Environmental Health Fund 802.251.0203, email@example.com
Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, and Ana Mascarenas, Policy and Communications Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA), 213.689.9170, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Martha and Ana can address efforts in California state legislature, and impacts on communities of color. Martha is avalable as a Spanish language resource.
Bobbi Chase Wilding, Organizing Director, Clean New York, National Workgroup for Safe Markets, volunteered product sample for study, 518.708.3875 Clean.firstname.lastname@example.org, also mom of kindergartner and infant.
José V Cárdenas, MD-MPH, Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, American Nurses Association , 301.628.5138, email@example.com. Dr. Cardenas has had over twenty years experience in environmental health issues. He is available as bilingual resource.
Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment and Justice. National Workgroup for Safe Markets 212.964.3680 firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike can address flame retardants and retail markets.
Andy Igrejas, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, contact Margie Kelly, email@example.com, 541.344.2282
Cindy Luppi, Co-Director, Clean Water Action New England, 617.338.8131 x 208, cell 617. 640.2779 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristen Welker-Hood, ScD, MSN, RN, director of Environment and Health Programs, Physicians For Social Responsibility, 202.667.4260 x 244 email@example.com
Mia Davis, Clean Water Action, Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Safe Markets 617.338.8131 ext 201 firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela J. Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxicspkmiller@akaction.net, 907.222.7714.Pam can address chemicals drifting north and contaminating Arctic people and wildlife.
Sharyle Patton, Director, Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center 415.878.0970, 415.686.4857. Sharyle is an expert on biomonitoring and chemical exposure issues.
Vytenis (Vyto) Babrauskas, Ph.D., Fire Science & Technology Inc. 425-222-9499 email@example.com. Dr. Babrauskas can address fire science and the overstated messaging on flame retardant chemical benefits.
Resources (click "Resources" for more studies and materials)
Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products, Environmental Science & Technology Journal on-line, May 18,2011
Halogenated Flame Retardants: Bromine, chlorine, fluorine and iodine are the elements in the chemical group known as halogens. Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants are halogenated chemicals that are supposed to inhibit or resist the spread of fire and are added to polyurethane foam products made for infants and children to enhance the flame retardancy of those goods. However, in studies of building contents, those treated with halogenated flame retardants resisted igniting by only a few additional seconds compared to those without flame retardants. Moreover use of flame retardants causes an increase in the toxicity of fires by increasing the release of carbon monoxide, smoke, soot, and toxic gases and chemicals such as dioxins and furans.
Residential fire and flame death rates in the U.S. and California 1981-2005. Trend data and linear regression lines are shown /299/. Prepared by California Department of Public Health, EPIC Branch.