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The Toxins in Baby Products (and Almost Everywhere Else)

Carcinogenic flame retardants were supposed to be gone by now, but, like endocrine-disrupting plasticizers, they persist A dangerous flame retardant known as "Tris" has reappeared in products designed for babies and young children, among them car seats, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, high chair seats, and nursing pillows. (Tris, once used in children's sleepwear, was removed from these products in the 1970s, after it was identified as a carcinogen and a mutagen, a compound that causes genetic mutation.) Also found in these products, according to the same recent study, which appeared in Environmental Science & Technology, is another flame retardant, pentaBDE. This compound was banned in Europe in 2004, when its U.S. manufacturers voluntarily discontinued it after it was found to be environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and to adversely affect thyroid function and neurological development. The study also identified new compounds whose ingredients include some of the older toxic substances—and it found all of these and other flame retardants in 80 percent of the 101 infant and children's products tested. That these chemicals, associated with adverse health impacts including cancer and endocrine disruption, are so widespread raises serious questions about the U.S. system of chemicals management and how we evaluate product safety. With the potential health hazards of widely used synthetic chemicals coming under increasing scrutiny, and with a growing call from medical and scientific professionals for policies that protect children from such hazards, the question of what takes the place of a threatening chemical has become increasingly important. It also prompts questions about whether it is better to substitute another chemical for the one posing problems or to redesign a product so it can achieve its desired performance, perhaps without such chemicals. Read more of this piece at The Atlantic. ____________ Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, Watershed: The Undamming of America, and Adventuring Along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, The Nation, Salon, The Washington Post, and other publications. She lives in Portland, Oregon.