Eco-Tip: Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Kids PJ’s and other products

Recently I got an email from a pregnant woman wondering about the safety of using hand-me-down pajamas for her newborn given the historic use of flame retardants in children’s sleepwear.  The issue of flame retardants in sleepwear is not as straight forward for consumers as it should be. But let’s see if I can shed some light on this.

Some sleepwear for children ages 9 months to 14 years may contain flame retardants, but sadly, there is no sure way for consumers to know if sleepwear on store shelves contain flame retardants.  This despite animal and some human studies that suggest flame retardants may impact children’s health, with problems such as delayed puberty, hyperactivity, decreased memory and learning, suppressed immune systems and cancer. One study found children have more than three times the levels of flame retardants found in their mothers’ bodies.

Since there are no regulations requiring labeling to indicate when pajamas (or other children’s products) contain flame retardants, our best advice is:

1. Choose snug- fitting sleepwear: Select sleepwear that is marked with a permanent tag that says “must be snug fitting” and “not flame resistant.” Making pajamas tight fitting is one way clothing makers can comply with “flame resistant” regulations without using potentially toxic chemicals.

2. Stay clear of 100% cotton sleepwear that is labeled as treated with Proban or Securest:  Some 100% cotton sleepwear is treated with non-halogenated flame retardants called Proban or Securest.   We do not have full safety information on these types of flame retardants, but if you wish to avoid all flame retardants, you should also avoid these products.

3.  Children’s sleepwear sized under 9 months should not contain flame retardants: Sleepwear sized under 9 months does not have to meet existing flammability regulations so it is unlikely that these products would be treated with flame retardants.

In addition to sleepwear, flame retardants are found in several other products for infants and kids. Some children’s products containing polyurethane foam contain flame retardants in amounts of as high as 5% of the weight of the product (that’s a lot when you’re dealing with toxic chemicals!). Due to an ill-conceived California furniture law (called TB 117), millions of pounds of toxic flame retardants are used in furniture, including furniture and foam children’s products (e.g. portacribs, high chairs, sleeping wedges, changing pads, etc) .  While the standard only applies to products sold in California, a large number of children’s product manufacturers have opted to make all of their products sold nationwide comply with the California standard.  One way to determine if a product contains flame retardants is to see if it has a tag that reads “This article meets the flammability requirements of TB 117. “

But amidst all this concern, there is some good news too: effective December 29, 2010, strollers, infant carriers, and nursing pillows will no longer be required to meet this flammability standard.  This is great news for the health of children and families everywhere!  And remember, when you go to purchase any of these products, try to avoid those that have the TB 117 label!