Thursday, August 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Flame retardants found in kids' furniture

Some of the furniture had Disney princesses on it.

Flame retardants found in kids' furniture

Some of the furniture had Disney princesses on it.

Others depicted Dora the Explorer and Spiderman.

And many contained flame retardants, chemicals that have been linked to cancer,  hormone disruption, infertility and other ills, according to a study by a nonprofit group that advocates for less use of toxic chemicals.

The group, the Center for Environmental Health, joined 15 other organizations in commissioning the study.

The researchers found flame retardant chemicals in children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased from major big-box retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Some safety experts say that flame retardants do not provide adequate protection from fire.

For the study, representatives of the groups purchased 42 furniture items last July and August. They were analyzed by Duke University researcher Heather Stapleton, who has tested numerous other products to determine whether they contained flame retardants, and which ones they were.

In this case, she found four flame retardant chemicals -- including two chemicals that were mixtures of flame retardants -- in 38 of 42 products tested.

This was, of course, just a sampling. A snapshot. But, said CEH's Caroline Cox, a co-author fo the report from the study, "Companies that sell these products need to know that parents want safer products made without these harmful chemicals.”

That may happen soon. California has passed a new "flammability" rule that drops a requirement it adopted in the 1970s.  The old standard required that furniture must withstand a small, open flame for 12 seconds without burning. It led to the use of many flame retardants.

The new standard goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, but some experts think the industry will start making changes sooner.

Also, whatever happens in California won't stay in California. Many manufacturers will change their entire supply lines instead of making two different products -- one for sale in California, and one for sale elsewhere.

Along the same lines as the CEH report, a recent study of collegiate gymnasts found that the concentration of flame retardants in their blood was 6.5 times higher than that of the general population.

The thinking was that they were exposed to the chemicals by inhaling or ingesting contaminated dust from polyurethane blocks many gyms use to proide softer landings for gymnasts learning new moves.

The researchers said it was unclear what health risks might be associated with the higher levels. The importance of the  study, they said was to suggest that officials may be overlooking exposures in high-risk groups of people.

The study was restricted to 11 gymnasts training in one gym.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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