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Naptime Nightmares? Toxic Flame Retardants Found in Day Care Nap Mats

Children’s nap mats from California, New York, Washington, Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut contain harmful flame retardant chemicals, according to independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH). The flame retardant chemicals found in the nap mats, which are used in daycares nationwide, have been linked to cancer, genetic damage, impacts on fertility and reproductive health, allergies, hormone disruption, and other serious health problems.

The nap mats were purchased at major retailers including Babies R Us, Target, and national online daycare supply companies, and were tested by a leading Duke University researcher who has published numerous papers on flame retardants in consumer products. The findings were released today in the CEH report, “Naptime Nightmares? Toxic Flame Retardants in Child Care Nap Mats.”

In December, CEH initiated legal action against retailers and suppliers of baby products and nap mats for unlabeled products containing the flame retardant chlorinated Tris. On Friday, CEH filed lawsuits alleging violation of California consumer protection law against nap mat suppliers. “There is no reason parents should have to worry that their children will be exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious problems when they take a nap at daycare,” said Caroline Cox, the author of the CEH study. “

CEH, Clean and Healthy New York, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Washington Toxics Coalition, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, and Clean Water Action chapters in Massachusetts and Connecticut collected 24 nap mats, and sent them to Duke University researcher Heather Stapleton for testing. Dr. Stapleton’s testing found flame retardant chemicals in all but two of the nap mats. The testing found 10 different flame retardant chemicals (or chemical mixtures) in the nap mats; 19 of the nap mats contain more than one harmful flame retardant chemical. Eleven of the nap mats were advertised as flame resistant.

The flame retardant chemical TPP (triphenyl phosphate), which has been linked in animal studies to lower sperm production and nervous system impacts, was found in 18 of the nap mats. Nine of the nap mats contain the flame retardant TDCPP (chlorinated Tris), which is known to cause cancer and has been linked to genetic damage. Chlorinated Tris was banned from children’s pajamas in the mid-1970s, yet it still widely used in children’s products today.

Children are exposed to flame retardants from nap mats when the chemicals leach out into the air, and when chemicals settle in dust that children touch and ingest. A study of daycares last year found that levels of certain flame retardants including chlorinated Tris were significantly higher in facilities that used foam nap mats than in daycares that don’t use the products.

CEH and other organizations have for years been urging regulators to change the outdated state and federal product flammability standards that encourage the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. A federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report last year stated that chemical flame retardants are ineffective in foam furniture for fire safety, and noted that their testing showed that “fire-retardant foams did not offer a practically significantly greater level of open- flame safety than did the untreated foams.”

Earlier this month, CEH welcomed a new California proposal for a fire safety standard (called TB117-2013) that would provide improved fire safety without the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. In addition to the California proposal, other bills to regulate the use of flame retardants are pending in several states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington.

To avoid flame retardants in nap mats, CEH urges child care providers and parents to look for nap mats made without polyurethane foam. Parents and child care providers may also ask nap mat suppliers about their use of flame retardant chemicals, and purchase products from companies that pledge they no longer use any of these chemicals.  Other options that are not usually treated with flame retardants include polyester fiberfill, cotton, and wool. To avoid ingestion of flame retardant-tainted dust, parents should also wash their hands and their children’s hands, and vacuum often.

The 2012 study, “Environmental Exposures in Early Childhood Education Environments” is available here (p 66).

The 2012 CPSC report is available here.

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.