There is a bill before the state legislature which would ban some flame retardant chemicals from children’s products. Does this sound counter intuitive? It is not. This is a case of unintended consequences.
When ‘tris’ chemicals used as flame retardants were shown to be carcinogenic in the 1970’s, they were removed from children’s pajamas, but not from other children’s products. Now we find them in nursing pillows, changing pads, nap mats, mattresses and other items which children are in contact with for many hours every day.
House Bill 6806, An Act Concerning Toxic Fire Retardants in Children’s Products, is an opportunity for us to rectify this dangerous exposure of our children to toxic chemicals that are linked to many serious diseases.
Over 200 synthetic chemicals are used as flame retardants in tens of thousands of products from household furnishings, clothing, carpeting, wiring and electronics. Most of these were allowed to be used in manufacturing without any testing for health or environmental impacts. Subsequent studies have shown that the family of tris chemicals is linked to cancers, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, and recent studies link them to obesity.
These toxic chemicals are bioaccumulative, that is, they build up in our bodies and throughout the food chain, and they are persistent in the environment; they do not break down quickly. Biomonitoring tests have shown flame retardants present in the blood of most Americans! Infants and young children have the highest exposures as they are often in direct contact with the products containing the foam. They are also the most vulnerable to life-long health impacts because their organs are still developing.
High levels of flame retardants are added to polyurethane foam found in children’s products and home furnishings. As the foam breaks down the chemicals are slowly released into our house dust. If you look around your home you will see many items that contain foam, including most of our comfy couches and chairs.
To illustrate the size of the problem, a sofa with polyurethane foam pillows may contain two pounds of halogenated retardants, nearly 10 percent of the foam’s mass! Because there is no safe way to recycle or dispose of these products, they continue to pollute our environment even after they are disposed of.
Recent research shows little to no fire-safety benefit to the use of these chemicals. Most fires are preventable without chemical flame retardants and the toxic gases produced by these products when they burn have been linked to increased rates of cancers among fire fighters.
Parents are advised to vacuum their homes frequently with a HEPA filter and wash their children’s hands often in an attempt to minimize exposure. Is this a reasonable way to protect our children from exposure to carcinogens? House Bill 6860 would remove these toxic chemicals from products intended for children under the age of three. It is an important step to protect our children’s future health!
Susan Eastwood is the director of communications for the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy CT.