Stephanie M. Lee
December 6, 2012

Nap mats, changing pads and crib mattress pads may be comfortable places for infants to rest, but some contain dangerous levels of a known carcinogen, a local watchdog group has found.

The Center for Environmental Health in Oakland said Thursday it is taking legal action against major national retailers, including Toys R Us, Target and Walmart, to force them to stop selling foam products that contain levels of chlorinated Tris that exceed those permitted by California law.

Chlorinated Tris was banned in 1977 from children’s pajamas and has been linked with gene mutations and hormone disruption. Last year, California added it to its list of carcinogens, meaning that products with a certain level of the chemical must carry a warning label.

But a growing number of studies, including the Center for Environmental Health’s, show that chlorinated Tris and other flame retardants used to meet a unique state law haven’t disappeared from store shelves.

Starting in late October, the center bought and tested about 25 products from Bay Area retailers and online sources. By then, manufacturers were required to comply with the law to eliminate chlorinated Tris from their products or attach a warning label about the chemical’s presence.

Yet the group reported finding 16 children’s products and four general-audience products with significant amounts of the chemical – and no warning labels.

“You can say, ‘Maybe I’ll luck out and go to the store and get a product that doesn’t have this chemical in it,’ ” said Caroline Cox, the organization’s research director. “But on the other hand, we found enough products that do contain chlorinated Tris that we would like to get this problem taken care of. I don’t want anybody to have to worry when they need to go buy a crib mattress for their kids.”

The products included a changing pad and a nap mat from Target, and a portable infant sleeper, a changing pad, an infant recliner, a bassinet pad and a crib wedge from Babies R Us.

Target spokeswoman Jessica Deede said the company “is committed to abiding by state and federal laws and regulations, and we expect our vendors to do the same.” She deferred questions about specific products to their manufacturers. Toys R Us, which owns Babies R Us, did not return requests for comment.

The companies were among nine that last month received legal notices, the first step in a lawsuit, from the Center for Environmental Health. The group intended to notify 15 others Thursday, including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart and

Chlorinated Tris can be ingested or inhaled, and children are especially vulnerable because they often put their hands in their mouths and their bodies are still developing, Cox said.

The center’s findings echo a Duke University study in May 2011, the first to examine flame retardants in baby products. Eighty percent of car seats, changing pads and other items had toxic or unknown flame retardants, and one-third had chlorinated Tris, the researchers found.

The center said the companies appeared to violate California’s consumer protection law, Proposition 65, which says a product’s amount of chlorinated Tris must not exceed the level that would cause 10 additional cancer cases per 1 million people exposed to the product.

But the high doses in the studied products were probably used to satisfy another state law, the only one of its kind in the nation, that requires foam in furniture and some children’s items to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds. Since the law took effect in 1975, manufacturers have doused their products in inexpensive flame-retardant chemicals to stay competitive in California’s large market, experts say.

Tobacco companies quietly pushed for flame-retardant furniture, rather than fire-safe cigarettes, to protect their business, the Chicago Tribune reported this year.

But tests by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and other labs indicate the chemicals don’t cut down on fire risks, but will burn and emit toxic gases and smoke that cause most fire deaths and injuries. Gov. Jerry Brown has asked state agencies to revise the 1975 law to reduce chemical use.

Tips to avoid exposure to flame retardants

— Wash your hands and your children’s hands often.

— Consider products with wool, organic cotton or polyester fiberfill instead of polyurethane foam.

Source: Center for Environmental Health

Products alleged to violate California law

Retailers appear in parentheses.

Nap mats

— Children’s Factory Indestructible Folding Rest Mat (Lakeshore Learning)

— Peerless Plastics nap mat (

— Lakeshore Rainbow rest mat (Lakeshore Learning)

— Peerless Plastics KinderMat (School Specialty)

— Safety 1st nap mat with Microban (

Changing pads

— Munchkin Contour foam changing pad (Target)

— Babies R Us contour changing pad (Babies R Us)

— Dexbaby changing pad (Walmart)

Baby mattresses and sleepers

— Baby Delight Snuggle Nest portable infant sleeper (Babies R Us)

— Nap Nanny portable infant recliner (Babies R Us)

— Foundations crib mattress (

— Angeles crib mattress (

— cradle mattress (

— Babies R Us bassinet pad (Babies R Us)

— dexbaby universal crib wedge (Babies R Us)

— Sweet Beginnings bassinet pad (Kmart/Delta)

Other products

— Isotonic mattress topper (Bed Bath & Beyond)

— Atelier ottoman (Bed Bath & Beyond)

— Threshold ottoman (Target)

— Delta parent/child glider (Target)

Read more: