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Potentially Toxic Flame Retardants Found in Baby Products

WEDNESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- A flame retardant banned years ago in many parts of the world appears to remain in use and is among a number of potentially toxic flame retardants found in baby products such as nursing pillows, bassinet mattresses, strollers and high chairs, a new study reports.

Flame retardants are used to reduce the risk of polyurethane foam -- used in a large number of products -- catching fire, and to slow the rate of burning if it does catch fire.

Penta brominated diphenyl ethers (pentaBDE) was the most popular flame retardant prior to 2004, but was banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states because of health concerns. In order to meet the new flammability standards, manufacturers began using other flame retardants which, in many cases, lack full health data, the study authors explained in a news release from the American Chemical Society.

The situation has led to a lack of knowledge about exactly which flame retardants are being used in products and at what concentrations, explained Heather M. Stapleton, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, and colleagues.

Stapleton's team conducted this study in order to fill those knowledge gaps.

The researchers found potentially toxic flame retardants in 80 percent of the polyurethane foam samples taken from 101 common baby products. Among those flame retardants were compounds associated with pentaBDE, which suggests that the substance remains in use.

Two potential cancer-causing flame retardants -- TCEP and TDCPP -- were also found in some of the polyurethane foam samples collected from the baby products.

The findings warrant future studies "to specifically measure infants' exposure to these flame retardants from intimate contact with these products, and to determine if there are any associated health concerns," Stapleton and colleagues concluded.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In response to the new report, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association released a statement stressing that "All nursery products sold in the United States must conform to tough federal safety standards such as the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act."

The industry trade group statement also noted that "Not only do these safety standards contain flammability requirements, they also restrict the use of substances that are harmful or toxic and to which children might be exposed."

More information

Health Canada has more about flame retardants and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Chemical Society, news release, May 18, 2011; Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, statement, May 18, 2011

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