It is understandable that baby products, such as bedding, should have flame retardants to protect infants from fire, but shouldn’t those chemicals be safe for children – otherwise, the whole thing is self-defeating? A new study has found potentially toxic substances in polyurethane foam found in nursing pillows, high chairs, strollers, and other baby products.

A new study reported its findings in Environmental Science & Technology. The authors add that to their knowledge theirs is the first study to focus entirely on flame retardants in baby products.

The scientists detected compounds associated with pentaBDE (penta brominated diphenyl ethers) that had been banned in 12 US states and 172 countries in some baby products.

Heather M. Stapleton and team explain that pentaBDE, once an extremely popular flame retardant, was phased out in 2004 because of serious health concerns.

In order to reduce the risk catching fire or to slow down a fire’s spread, polyurethane foam has flame retardants added to it. Manufacturers, in an attempt to meet federal flammability requirements, have turned to other substances, many of which do not have much health data available.

Over the years less and less is known about exactly which substances are being added to polyurethane foam products, and at what levels of concentration.

The scientists collected 101 common baby products and identified toxic flame retardants in 80% of them, including pentaBDE. They also detected two potential carcinogens, TDCPP and TCEP.

The authors wrote:

“Future studies are therefore warranted to specifically measure infants exposure to these flame retardants from intimate contact with these products, and to determine if there are any associated health concerns.”

The resarchers stress that they are in favor of protecting children from fire and other types of burning. However, their concern is regarding the safety of some products being used in car seats, bassinet mattresses, nursing pillows, strollers, high chairs and other products aimed at infants and babies that contain polyurethane foam. Some of these substances, they write, had been banned in many parts of the USA and the world.

The European Union has strict restrictions on PentaBDE and OctaBDE use in products because they are both seen as a threat to human health as well as the environment.

PentaBDE can enter a human either by ingestion or inhalation. It is mainly stored in body fat and can remain there for years. Animal experiments have shown that PentaBDE may harm the liver, thyroid and neurobehavioral development.

PentaBDE was voluntarily completely phased out by industry in 1986 in German, in Sweden the government forced a phase out which was completed by 1999. Sweden bans the import of any PentaBDE containing consumer product.

In the USA, since 2005, the Environmental Protection Agncy needs to evaluate each case before any product containing pentaBDE or octaBDE can be manufactured or imported. By the middle of 2007, twelve US state had banned pentaBDE completely.

Many scientists and other experts would like pentaBDE to be added to the Stockholm Convention.

“Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products”
Heather M. Stapleton, Susan Klosterhaus, Alex Keller, P. Lee Ferguson†, Saskia van Bergen, Ellen Cooper, Thomas F. Webster, and Arlene Blum
Environ. Sci. Technol, DOI: 10.1021/es2007462

Written by Christian Nordqvist