Eighty percent of cushions used in car seats, portable cribs and other baby furnishings contain chemical flame retardants that can accumulate in babies’ bodies, according to a new study.
More than one-third of the tested products contained the same carcinogenic chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas in the late 1970s.
The study, conducted by research chemists from California and North Carolina, says that babies are being exposed to at least eight different flame-retarding chemicals in an array of products sold nationwide. The chemicals can leak from the cushions and then babies can inhale or ingest them, or absorb them through their skin.
The study’s lead author, Heather Stapleton, a Duke University assistant professor of environmental chemistry, said many of the compounds have been used in foam cushions only recently, replacing another chemical that was banned after 2004 because it was building up rapidly in human bodies.
“Most people are not aware of the exposure that is occurring,” Stapleton said, adding that the potential health effects of most of the chemicals are unknown.
Research on lab animals has shown some of the chemicals cause cancerous tumors and damage developing brain cells, and some can alter hormones essential to reproductive and neurological development. But for most of the compounds discovered in the baby products, even basic toxicity data is unknown, and the effects on human health remain unstudied.
Linda Birnbaum, director of the federal institute that funded part of the study, said in an interview Tuesday that she is concerned that babies are being exposed to chemicals without adequate information on their health risks.
“Are we moving from one compound for which there is a concern to a newer compound that may be just as bad or worse?” said Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “There are a few that we certainly have concerns about. There are certainly issues about relatively high concentrations used in these products.”
The chemicals were found to be so widespread in the products that it’s difficult for parents to avoid them. One item contained three different flame retardants, and some products had levels of the chemicals that made up as much as 12.5 percent of the foam’s weight, according to the study.
However, some manufacturers use a filling other than polyurethane foam, such as polyester, which can pass the flammability standard without the chemicals. Products that are advertised as free of flame retardants include Boppy nursing pillows and BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses. Those items were not tested for the study.
“Some of these compounds aren’t new. Some of them have been around for a long time and no one really knows how much they have been used,” Birnbaum said. Now, the new tests confirm that it’s back in other baby items.
The scientists suspect that American babies may be exposed to higher levels of many of the flame retardants than adults or older children.
Exposure to chemical additives in baby products is of even greater concern for infants, who are in intimate contact with these products for long periods of time, at very critical stages of development,” the researchers wrote.
But sometimes it is hard to find products, for example, we did not find any car seats not treated with flame retardants. I did remove the polyurethane foam pad from my changing table and I purchased an organic polyester/cotton-based pad instead.
To get the latest updates from Holistic Health Examiner ‘click’ the subscribe button above.