Press Releases

More Baby Products, Furniture Found with Cancer-Causing Flame Retardant Chemical


Oakland, CA-A Disney Safety First baby walker, two diaper changing pads (Playtex Diaper Genie and DaVinci brands), and furniture from Walmart, Macy’s, La-Z-Boy, West Elm, Kmart, Sears and other national retailers are among the products found by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) with high levels of the cancer-causing chemical chlorinated Tris. One product, a Britax infant car seat purchased from Babies R Us, contained significantly more Tris than the average amount in similar foam baby products tested for a 2011 national study. That study warned that baby products with 3-4% Tris could expose children to the chemical in amounts greater than the federal “acceptable” daily exposure level.

CEH has sent legal notices of violation of California law to the baby product makers, furniture companies, and retailers that sold the products containing high levels of chlorinated Tris. “Our recent findings show that children and families are exposed to this cancer-causing chemical in many everyday products, from birth through adulthood,” said CEH Research Director Caroline Cox. “It’s long past time to end this toxic health threat and make safer products without harmful chemicals.”

Because California is such a large market, many companies make their products nationwide to conform to the state’s standards.  A 1975 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. This has prompted decades of widespread use of flame retardant chemicals. 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.

California is now considering an updated standard, called TB 117-2013, that would result in better fire safety without the use of harmful chemical flame retardants. “We support the state’s proposal to update this standard to insure fire safety without exposing children and families to avoidable, harmful chemicals,” said Judy Levin, CEH Pollution Prevention Co-Coordinator. A petition started by former San Francisco firefighter Tony Stefani in support of the proposed new standard has more than 40,000 signatures. Stefani will deliver the signatures to a state hearing on the proposal on March 26, the day the public comment period on the proposal closes.

CEH purchased the furniture and children’s products at Bay Area outlets of national retailers and sent them to an independent lab for testing. In addition to the baby products, furniture found in violation of state law include futons from Walmart and Sears, recliners from Walmart, La-Z-Boy, Kmart and Macy’s, chairs from West Elm, JC Penney, and Giorgi Brothers, and a contour back wedge from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Through its legal action, CEH is urging producers and retailers to take steps towards eliminating Tris and all other harmful flame retardant chemicals from consumer products.

Decades ago, scientists found that chlorinated Tris could cause genetic mutations, and the chemical was removed  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.” In 2011, California added Tris to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer, but CEH’s testing shows it is still widely used in furniture and other products.

In December, CEH launched the first-ever legal actions aimed at ending health threats from chlorinated Tris in products for babies and young children. Last month, the health watchdog released its report Naptime Nightmares, showing that nap mats used in daycares nationwide contain chlorinated Tris and/or other dangerous flame retardant chemicals.

The Center for Environmental Health has a sixteen-year track record of protecting children and families from harmful chemicals in our air, water, food and in dozens of every day 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.