Press Releases

First-Ever Legal Action Targets Cancer-Causing Flame Retardant Found in Children’s Products

Oakland, CA-Nap mats, changing pads, crib mattress pads, infant sleepers, and other foam products for infants and young children contain high levels of the cancer-causing flame retardant chemical chlorinated Tris (tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate or TDCPP), in excess of the safety standard set by California consumer protection law. Independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found 16 baby and children’s products with high levels of chlorinated Tris (Tris), above the state safety standard (which is 10 additional cancer cases per million people exposed). CEH announced today it has initiated the first-ever legal action against the retailers and producers for products found with high levels of Tris in violation of California law.

“Infants and young children, who are at critical stages of their development, should not be sleeping on products doused with these ticking chemical time bombs,“ said Michael Green, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health. “It’s past time for companies to take steps towards eliminating these harmful chemicals from products for our children and families.”

Tris was linked to genetic mutations decades ago and was banned from children’s pajamas in 1977. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has stated that it “may pose a serious health risk to consumers.” Last year, California added Tris to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer. But makers of children’s products continue to use foam treated with the chemical, even in products that pose no fire danger.

CEH sent samples of the baby products to an independent lab to test for chlorinated Tris in each product. Products found with high levels of the cancer-causing chemical include five foam nap mat brands sold to daycares nationwide, three foam diaper changing pads (purchased at Walmart, Target and Babies R Us), and foam crib mattresses, bassinet pads, and infant sleepers. In addition to the children’s products, CEH also found high levels of Tris in a parent/child glider, two ottomans and a mattress pad (see the full list of products here).

Recent animal and human studies have linked Tris to hormone disruption, developmental toxicity, cancer, and other harmful effects. Studies have shown that children have the highest levels of flame retardants in their bodies. A May 2011 study of baby products tested for flame retardants noted that baby products containing even small percentages of Tris could expose children to more Tris than furniture, and more than the CPSC’s “acceptable” daily exposure level. The CPSC estimates that exposure to children from furniture increased cancer risk by 20 additional cancers per million (two times the California safety standard of 10 cases per million). Most products tested by CEH contain significant levels of Tris, including several that contain more than double the levels found in the 2011 study.

A California standard called Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) mandates that foam used in furniture and some children’s products must be able to withstand a small open flame – like a match or cigarette lighter – for 12 seconds. But a recent analysis by the CPSC has found that the state’s focus on chemical flame retardants does not protect people from fires and that non-chemical methods are better suited to achieve fire safety benefits.

Under California’s Prop 65 consumer protection law, products that expose consumers to cancer-causing chemicals like Tris must carry a warning label. None of the products purchased in California and tested by CEH were labeled as such. Through its legal action, CEH is urging producers and retailers to take steps towards eliminating Tris and all other harmful flame retardant chemicals in consumer products, especially products for young children and others where the chemicals are ineffective and unnecessary.

CEH has a sixteen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution and has previously uncovered lead and other toxic health threats to children from wood playground structures, toys, vinyl baby bibs and lunchboxes, imported candies, children’s jewelry, children’s medicines, and many other products. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. In 2010, the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond.