Baby products and flame retardants: a dangerous combination?

By • Published: August 9th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

What might be hidden in your little one’s car seat? We’re not talking about stray animal crackers or pacifiers. There’s something else you should be aware of: The foam used as padding in many baby products contains chemical mixtures that work as flame retardants.

Infant sleep positioners, nursing pillows, strollers, changing table pads and other items contain foam and, in some cases, flame retardants. While federal safety standards set rules about the content of all baby products sold in the U.S., some scientists still question the safety of these chemicals. Complete information about how much of them ends up in our bodies, and how they may … or may not… affect our health, often is unavailable.

In many cases, the chemicals’ exact composition and properties are legally protected secrets of the companies that make them. That means scientists aren’t able to study the chemicals thoroughly.

A new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology showed nearly 80 percent of the baby products the researchers studied contained flame retardants. Some of the chemicals were related to pentaBDE, a substance banned from use in 12 states because of significant safety concerns. Other chemicals are recognized as potentially toxic, given enough exposure.

Many products for adults, including furniture, contain flame retardants, too. But the researchers argue that babies, who develop fast and spend lots of time lounging on foam products, may be at greater risk for potential negative effects than adults.

What does it all mean? It’s hard to say. More research is needed to understand flame retardants and whether the benefits they offer outweigh potential risks.

In the meantime, try not to worry too much about your child’s exposure to flame retardants. Parenting offers plenty of other concerns that will keep you up at night.