Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers

Levels Three Times Higher in Toddlers Than Moms

September 4, 2008

Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers: Fire Retardants (PBDEs) in Toddlers: How to Avoid PBDes

There is growing awareness that current laws fail to protect children from harmful chemicals. PBDEs are just another example of the fact that policymakers allow calculated risks that many parents would prefer to avoid when it comes to something as critical and as fragile as their child's health. We urge you to support our efforts to reform the nation's safety net, and force chemical makers to assure that their products are safe for children before they are allowed on the market.

"This study felt like a real wake up call to me. I had never heard of PBDEs before participating in the study. It never occurred to me that chemicals inside the couch, mattress, pillow, or car seat could be harmful. And I didn’t realize that chemicals could be put in products with no proof of safety." Laura Spark, mom and kids study participant. 

Children's susceptibility to chemicals is not limited to PBDE exposures. You can take simple steps to reduce your children's contact with harmful chemicals that are found in our homes, foods, and other products we use daily. These include chemicals found in body care products, non-stick pans, plastics and food itself. We also have tips for bolstering your and your kids' bodies against chemicals' effects. Download 10 Tips for a Healthy Home: A Parent's Guide to Going Green.

Avoid PBDEs and other harmful fire retardants in electronics

PBDEs are widely used in electronic items, and residues are detected in nearly every household sampled. Home tests show that common culprits are televisions, stereo or entertainment systems, power strips, and routers. Lesser concentrations are found in speakers, alarm clocks, phones, and device chargers (Allen 2007). Fortunately many manufacturers are shifting away from Deca due to restrictions in Europe and actions on the part of some U.S. states. In fact, Washington State estimated that about 57% of televisions and 95% of computer products do not contain PBDEs (Washington State 2006). When purchasing new products look for these brands, which have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba Panasonic has agreed to eliminate all bromine-containing fire retardants from mobile phones and computers by 2011, but does not give a commitment or timeline for the remainder of their products. Dell has incomplete restrictions. Motorola's phase-out of BFRs is limited to their ECOMOTO phone line. The following companies have or are phasing out Deca, but may use other bromine-based fire retardants in their products: Canon, Daikin, Intel, IBM, HP (Hewlett Packard), Minolta, Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Xerox. Scan your house for Deca-containing items. The chemical can be found in:

  • Electronics TV components, mobile phones, fax machines, remote controls, video equipment, printers, photocopiers, toner cartridges, scanners.
  • Transportation electronic components, automobile fabrics, plastics and electronics.
  • Household items kitchen appliances, fans, heaters or hair dryers, curtains and drapes, water heaters, and lamp sockets.

Avoid PBDEs in foam

PBDEs were widely used in older foam furniture. The Penta form used in foam was not produced in the U.S. after 2004, but stockpiles of the chemical could have been used later (Betts 2008a), and the chemical could be present in imported items. Foam products that might contain these PBDEs include: couches, upholstered chairs, mattresses, futons, foam carpet padding, children's car seats, automobile interiors, foam pillows (including breastfeeding pillows), and other foam items. For many families replacing these items is not a possibility. You can still take simple steps to reduce your family's contact with these chemicals. 1. Inspect foam items. Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen and breaking down. If you cannot replace these items try to keep the covers intact. Beware of older items like car seats where the foam is not completely encased in a protective fabric. 2. Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vaccuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and will likely remove more contaminants and other allergens from your home. HEPA-filter air cleaners may also reduce particle-bound contaminants in your house. 3. Do not reupholster foam furniture. Even those items without PBDEs might contain poorly studied fire retardants with potentially harmful effects. 4. Be careful when removing old carpet. The padding may contain PBDEs. Keep your work area isolated from the rest of your home. Clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and mop to pick up as many of the small particles as possible. 5. When purchasing new products ask the manufacturers what type of fire retardants they use. Avoid products with brominated fire retardants, and opt for less flammable fabrics and materials, like leather, wool and cotton. Be aware that "natural" or latex foam will also contain fire retardants. SOURCES: Betts 2008a, BSEF 2006, Curtis 2007, Greenpeace 2008, Washington State Department of Ecology and Department of Health 2006.