Michael Hawthorne
December 6, 2012

Environmental group says baby products not marked in violation of California law

Major retailers are violating California law by failing to warn consumers about diaper-changing pads, nap mats and other baby products made with unsafe levels of a flame retardant linked to cancer, according to legal notices expected to be filed Thursday.

The notices urge retailers including Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart to recall infant and toddler products made with chlorinated tris or TDCPP. Researchers have found the flame retardant in upholstered furniture and children’s products sold throughout the nation.

In October, California started requiring warning labels on products that could expose people to harmful amounts of chlorinated tris. The Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit group that uses legal action to force toxic chemicals out of household products, tested 19 children’s products bought in stores and online after the state’s deadline.

Sixteen of the items, which also included crib mattresses and nursery furniture, were found to contain chlorinated tris, the group said. None had a warning label.

In one rocking chair, the chemical represented almost 10 percent of the weight of the foam, according to tests the group commissioned from an independent laboratory. Levels in most products ranged from 3 to 6 percent — well above the safety limit established under California’s Proposition 65 law on toxic chemicals, the legal notices allege.

“It’s past time for companies to take steps towards eliminating these harmful chemicals from products for our children and families,” said Michael Green, the group’s executive director.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company had not seen the complaint but “consistently seeks to comply with all Proposition 65 requirements.” Target said it “is committed to abiding by state and federal laws and regulations, and we expect our vendors to do the same.” Amazon did not respond to an email request for comment


After a study linked chlorinated tris to cancer in the late 1970s, manufacturers voluntarily took the chemical out of children’s pajamas. But the flame retardant wasn’t formally banned.

Like other chemical flame retardants, chlorinated tris is known to escape from products and settle in dust. Because young children play on the floor and often put things in their mouths, they generally have higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies than their parents.

California added chlorinated tris to its Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals last year after federal officials said they were largely powerless to do anything about the flame retardant. The federal Toxic Substances Control Act makes it practically impossible for regulators to ban chemicals even after health effects are documented.

The Tribune’s Playing With Fire series, published in May, revealed how flame retardants are commonly found in American homes as a result of a decades-long campaign of deception by the tobacco and chemical industries. Among other things, the leading manufacturers of flame retardants created a phony consumer group that stoked the public’s fear of fire to protect and expand the use of their chemicals.

Some manufacturers of children’s products have kept using flame retardants even after California officials in 2010 ruled that strollers, infant carriers and nursing pillows don’t pose fire hazards and exempted those products from the state’s strict flammability standards. A May 2011 study by Duke University researchers found chlorinated tris in more than a third of the 101 baby products tested.

Chemical companies say chlorinated tris is safe. But since California officially listed it as a carcinogen, two of the world’s largest manufacturers of the flame retardants have announced they are phasing it out of production.