Outing the Toxics in Our High Chairs

08/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Baby products throughout the United States are saturated with toxic flame retardants, and it is going to stay that way if the bromine industry has its way. Parents would be outraged if they were aware. Because of an antiquated California flammability standard, California Technical Bulleting 117 (TB117), the foam in children's products such as portable cribs, bassinets, strollers, playpens, swings, nursing pillows, high chairs and toddler chairs are infused with toxic flame retardant chemicals.

These chemicals leach into dust, pets, humans, and the environment. Worst of all, they end up in our children. Californians have the highest body burdens in the world of pentaBDE, a potent endocrine disrupting toxic chemical which is a flame retardant. Now our babies are born with these chemicals in their bodies and get a further dose from their mother's milk and exposure to baby products. Research shows that the levels of this chemical in toddlers' bodies is three times that of their mothers.

These chemicals are almost certainly harmful to human health. In animal studies in multiples species, they cause cancer, neurological impairments like hyperactivity, reproductive problems like lower sperm count, microtestes, thyroid problems, and endocrine disruption.

In Sacramento, playing out on a stage that is largely invisible, SB772, a new bill to get these toxic flame retardants out of baby products, is struggling to stay afloat. Far from the media spotlight, the chemical industry has far too much influence for my comfort., the Green Science Policy Institute, Friends of the Earth and a number of concerned environmental organizations are supporting this important bill in a David and Goliath-like fight against the cynical attacks of a profit-driven and self-serving chemical industry.

On Tuesday, SB772 passed out of the Senate Environmental Committee by the skin of its teeth. Supporters of the bill had believed the Committee would vote unanimously for this bill. A close vote wasn't expected. The dynamics changed when the bromine industry funded front group, "Citizens for Fire Safety," brought a half dozen sympathetic-sounding spokespeople to the hearing to speak against the legislation, portraying the legislation as reducing children's fire protection and charging that it would disproportionately harm communities of color. This is patently untrue.

The fact is that it is unconscionable to expose babies to these chemicals -- especially since the 12-second flame resistance provided by these toxic chemicals has shown no measurable benefit in terms of actual fire protection. The baby products in question do not constitute a fire hazard, but they do constitute a serious health hazard when toxic chemicals are unnecessarily added. We have to change that, and we can if we shine a bright light on the dishonest and disingenuous campaign the bromine industry is waging against us and our children!