Tests Discover Likely Carcinogen in Baby Products

Even though some flame retardants were removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s because of concerns about possible carcinogens, the authors of a new study assert that many baby products still contain potentially harmful amounts of flame retardant chemicals.

The study, published Wednesday in Environment Science & Technology, was based on tests of polyurethane samples from 101 products, including car seats, strollers, rocking chairs, crib mattresses and changing table pads.

The researchers — including specialists affiliated with Duke University, Boston University and UC California, Berkeley — said 36 of the samples contained chlorinated Tris, which the  Consumer Product Safety Commission calls a probable human carcinogen.

In all, 80 of the items contained some kind of fire retardants. Some of the other chemicals found in the products have been linked with thyroid problems, and yet others were found to cause tumors in rats, the study said.

The report said children are at greater risk because of “their frequent hand to mouth behavior” and noted that infants have prolonged, close contact with these products at “very critical stages of their development.”

“Some of these chemicals have been linked to a lowered IQ, reproductive problems, hormone disruption and cancer,” said Dr. Sarah Jannsen, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “If this wasn’t concerning enough, only a small number of flame retardants have undergone adequate testing.”

A trade group representing the baby products industry, the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Assn., issued a statement questioning whether the flame retardant banned from pajamas in the 1970s is still being used at all.  The substance found in the study, the group said, might be a chemically related, but different substance.

The association’s statement also said that nursery products sold in the United States must comply with “tough federal safety standards” that meet  flammability requirements and also “restrict the use of substances that are harmful or toxic and to which children might be exposed.”

The American Chemistry Council also issued a statement challenging the study. “This study attempts to examine the existence of certain flame retardants in a small sampling of children’s products,” it said. “It does not address exposure or risk.”

In fact, as The New York Times reports, the research did not determine if children absorbed the chemicals. But one of the study’s co-authors questioned why chemicals whose hazards aren’t fully understood are being used in some children’s products.

“Why do you need fire retardant in a nursing pillow?” said Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist.  “The whole issue is, they are toxic chemicals that are in our homes at high levels, and right now, people don’t know much about it.”

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