Flame Retardant Rant

I’ve had several requests to post the flame retardant rant, so here it is. After my meltdown, I decided to make my rant more journalistic than personal. I would love to hear your thoughts on what else we can do to get FRs out of our children’s products!

You might want to rethink buying certain second-hand baby items, or so this new peer reviewed research study suggests. Heather Stapleton, a new mom and environmental chemist at Duke University along with 7 other team members, analyzed 101 polyurethane foam inserts in infant products testing for flame retardants. 80% came back positive for flame retardants.


Foam samples were donated from various individuals. They were asked to cut a 2X2 cm polyurethane foam sample from their car seats, high chairs, strollers, changing table pads, nursing pillows, rocking chairs, toilet seats, portable crib mattresses, and infant sleep positioners. The sample owner wrapped the foam in aluminum foil, enclosed in a resealable plastic bag, and cataloged the details of the foam like: date of purchase, type of product, manufacturer, and if it had a label stating it was TB117 compliant, then mailed them in. The foam analysis was conducted blind.

The samples ranged from items purchased from the year 2000-present and most were from products currently in use. 14 items were purchased new in 2010 specifically for this study.


The results were quite frightening. Out of the 80% of foams that were positive for flame retardants, only 1 product wasn’t halogenated. Which means it didn’t have brominated or chlorinated flame retardants in it.

The most common chlorinated flame retardant was TDCPP (Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate) and the average concentration level was 39.2 mg. TDCPP was banned from children’s clothing in the 70‘s since it was found as a human carcinogen. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that it was also easily absorbed into the skin. TDCPP exposure has caused lab rats to develop tumors. But, it is still LEGAL to use in other children’s or consumer products.


The brominated flame retardant, PentaBDE (Penta brominated diphenyl ethers) that was banned in 2004 was found in 5 products. 4 of those products were made before the ban and 1 product was made in 2007. So this means either the foam manufacturer is breaking the law by using it, the foam was made prior to 2007 and the company was not accurate on dates made, or the Deca mixture PBDE flame retardant (which is legal) broke down and became Penta. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) now use the mixture Deca instead of the mixtures Penta or Octa. But, Deca has been shown to break down into Penta and Octa.


Halogenated flame retardants are being found in our blood, in umbilical cords, placentas, in our food, infant formula, animals, air, homes, dust, pretty much everywhere. What makes this so scary is that scientists are claiming that halogenated flame retardants can cause tumors, reductions in fertility, low sperm counts, interferes with brain signaling, causes hyperactivity, damage DNA, can cause cancers, neurological disorders, developmental toxicity, immune system damage, and some studies in the UK and New Zealand have linked exposure to SIDS.


The TB117 flamibility law in California is basically the reason why so many flame retardants are in polyurethane foam products. The law states that “a open flame must be applied vertically at the middle of the lower edge of the specimen for 12 seconds.” The cheapest way to pass this test is to add chemical fire retardants.

The need for fire retardants has drastically gone down with the advancement in technology; we have advanced in electric wiring, created smoke detectors, made self extinguishing cigarettes.


Until the Safe Chemical Act of 2011 is passed, (I’m trying to be over confident that it will pass!) you can do the following things now to avoid flame retardants:
  • Buy only organic, tight fitting pajamas
  • Opt for natural fibers like wool, jute, alpaca, and cotton
  • Avoid anything that says meets the TB117 standards
  • Vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter.. FRs are found in dust
  • Before buying electronics, be sure to check with the manufacturer to see what they use
  • Replace ripped or torn furniture that exposes the foam
  • Cut down on eating fatty meats
  • Avoid using foams and opt for natural fillings
  • Buy a rubber cover for your mattress, bassinet. FRs cannot break through natural rubber
  • Wash your hands frequently, esp. after sitting on furniture, playing on the floor
  • Lay thick organic fabrics (quilts are great) on the floor where your baby is playing
  • Write to congress telling them how they should ban FRs

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