Flame retardants are added during manufacture to reduce the risk of polyurethane foam catching fire and to slow down burning if it does. Seeking to meet government flammability standards, manufacturers then turned to other flame retardants, which in many cases, have less health data available. The situation left gaps in knowledge about exactly which flame retardants were being used in polyurethane foam products, and at what concentrations.
The new study describes hints that one flame retardant, banned years ago in some areas, actually remains in use.
The study continues:
"To the author's knowledge, this is the first study to report on flame retardants in baby products. Future studies are therefore warranted to specifically measure infant's exposure to these flame retardants from intimate contact with these products, and to determine if there are any associated health concerns."
Potentially toxic flame retardants were found in 80% of the polyurethane foam samples collected from 101 common baby products. Among them were compounds associated with pentaBDE, suggesting that the substance, which is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states, still remains in use, as well as two potential carcinogens, TCEP and TDCPP.
If a company uses flame retardants on their products and wants to export them to the EU, they have to make sure that products do not contain more pentaBDE and octaBDE than allowed according to EU legislation. Pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE) and octabromo-diphenyl ether (octaBDE) are two brominated flame retardants. OctaBDE is for example used in office equipment and electrical appliances.
Both pentaBDE and octaBDE pose a threat to human health and the environment. Therefore the EU has set restrictions on the use of PentaBDE and OctaBDE in products.
PentaBDE may enter the body by ingestion or inhalation. It is stored mainly in body fat and may stay in the body for years. The chemical has no proven health effects in humans; however, based on animal experiments, pentaBDE may have effects on the liver, thyroid, and neurobehavioral development.
In Germany, industrial users of pentaBDE agreed to a voluntary phase-out in 1986. In Sweden, the government phased out the production and use of the pentaBDE compounds by 1999 and a total ban on imports came into effect within just a few years.
In the United States, as of 2005, no new manufacture or import of pentaBDE and octaBDE can occur without first being subject to United States Environmental Protection Agency evaluation. As of mid-2007, a total of twelve states in the U.S. had banned pentaBDE.
It has been proposed that pentaBDE be added to the Stockholm Convention as it meets the criteria for the so-called persistent organic pollutants of persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity.
Sources: The American Chemical Society and The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry