As parents, we all want to do right by our kids and keep them safe. That’s a given, right? So we put some level of trust in safety standards when purchasing items like car seats, cribs, toys, and any number of other products. But more and more concerning information is coming out about chemicals used in many children’s items. One such chemical: flame retardants. A study published in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal found that 80 out of 101 commonly used baby products contained these potentially harmful additives.
Now, a new HBO documentary, Toxic Hot Seat, which airs in November, sheds light on the complicated issue. So we decided to take a closer look at the current state of flame retardant chemicals in the U.S. Here’s what to know:
The History of Flame Retardant Chemicals
A flame retardant called Tris was banned from children’s pajamas because of health concerns in the 1970s (today’s PJs must meet standards in other ways—you may have noticed the labels). But the U.S. government didn’t ban the substance completely. And today, in studies, Tris—and other potentially toxic flame retardant chemicals—have been found in other children’s products like car seats, nursing pillows, and strollers.
How did this happen? Well, experts say that a lot of these chemicals exist in products today thanks to a California law called TB 117 that requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. And that includes children’s products.
Health Worries Over Flame Retardant Chemicals
These chemicals are legal but have been linked to several frightening health issues, including many forms of cancer, fertility problems, and other harmful health effects.
Other studies show that flame retardant chemicals can affect pregnant women and unborn babies, accumulating in breastmilk and transferring to the fetus. And children born to women who were exposed to high levels during pregnancy showed a decrease in IQ and were more susceptible to hyperactivity disorders.
Even more eye-opening: many studies show that the flame-retardant chemicals may not even add any extra safety benefit in an actual fire!
What to Do
Unfortunately, because specific flame-retardant chemical labeling isn’t required, there’s no way for parents to know whether a baby product contains the chemicals. There is some proposed legislation in the works but, as we all know, these types of things can take time.
In the meantime, to keep your family safe and healthy, look for products made by companies that put these concerns at the forefront. For example, all Orbit Baby products (which we’ve featured in our founder Jessica Loves column) comply with the government’s requirements for flame retardancy without the use of toxic brominated and chlorinated chemicals, like PBBs and PBDEs.
And be active. Let your lawmakers know that you’re worried about potentially harmful chemicals, like flame retardants.
After all, change may not happen without parents making their concerns known, loud and clear. Toxic Hot Seat filmmaker Kirby Walker tells HBO that he hopes that more visibility for the issue will help push the national movement in the right direction. “There are more than 60,000 unregulated chemicals…With 60,000 unregulated chemicals, if even 1 percent are toxic, that’s 600 toxic chemicals. That’s a staggering figure and why I’m really happy that we were able to raise the big question about reforming at the federal level.”