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Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

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Flame Retardants Refuse to Burn Out

Posted: 01/19/12 12:51 PM ET

Think the flame retardant Tris is a thing of the past? Think again. Last week the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States released a study that found 80 percent of new baby and children's products tested positive for chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), a chemical voluntarily removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s because it was found to cause cancer.

The Hidden Hazards In the Nursery study tested 20 products -- including nursing pillows, changing pads, bassinet pads and car seats -- for traces of Tris and other toxic chemical flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ether compounds, or PBDEs.

The findings echo those of a 2011 UC Berkeley study authored by Arlene Blum, a Healthy Child Healthy World Advisory Board member, which found that 36 percent of 101 baby products tested positive for Tris.

According to the Berkeley study, Americans have 20 times higher blood levels of PBDEs than in Europe; these chemicals are linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, lower testosterone in men, neurological disorders in children and reduced fertility in women.

What can you do to protect your family? The Washington Toxics Coalition has some great tips:

  • Because PBDEs like Tris are transferred from hand to mouth through dust, make sure you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, as well as a wet mop, to remove dust particles in your home.
  • Encourage frequent hand-washing to keep any toxic dust on hands from being ingested.
  • Avoid all products containing polyurethane foam with a label reading TB117, which means it has likely been treated with toxic flame retardants.
  • Choose a safer mattress, ideally made without polyurethane foam; naturally flame-resistant wool is a great option.

Meanwhile, Washington State is considering the Toxic-Free Kids Act which would ban the use of Tris in children's products beginning in 2014; the act will also circumvent manufacturers simply replacing one toxic flame retardant with another by requiring makers of children's products to conduct thorough health and safety assessment of potential alternatives.

This important legislation is part of a growing movement as states seek to address deficiencies in the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Obviously, these are issues that are important to voters. I only hope that lawmakers will take notice as The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 approaches its Senate hearing this spring.

Flame retardants in baby products? This is a problem that needs to flame out.

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