U.S. Consumer Watchdog Recommends Ban on Toxic Flame Retardants in Products, Protects Children’s Health

In a victory for children's environmental health, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 3 to 2 today to grant an NGO petition to remove an entire class of toxic flame retardant chemicals from consumer goods, including children’s products, mattresses, upholstered furniture and electronics casings. The commissioners directed the agency to inform consumers and manufacturers about the hazards of these chemicals.

In addition to couches and easy chairs, flame retardants have been added to nursing pillows, strollers, infant sleep positioners and even baby bathtubs made of foam.  

The well-documented health hazards linked to flame retardant exposure include diminished IQ, cancer, hormone disruption and damage to the reproduction system. Not only do they pose risks to kids' health, but research also shows they don't reduce the risk of fire.

The CPSC's decision is the most sweeping action to date by the federal government to reduce Americans’ exposure to these chemicals. It was prompted by a 2015 petition from Earthjustice and the Consumer Federation of America that requested the agency ban the addition of all halogenated flame retardants to four product categories covered by today's decision. In 2016, nearly 10,000 EWG supporters urged the CPSC to grant the petition, and last week EWG testified in support of the ban.

EWG’s original research helped highlight the potential dangers of flame retardants, particularly for American children. In 2003 we released the first-ever study of flame retardants called PBDEs in mothers’ milk. In 2008, EWG found that toddlers and preschoolers typically had three times as much of these brain-altering chemicals in their blood compared to their mothers.

Among the participants in the 2008 study were Laura Spark of Boston and her daughter Naomi, then 4 years old. Levels of PBDEs in Naomi’s blood were 6.5 times higher than in her mother's. That pattern was consistent among the other child-parent participants in the study. In 2014 and 2016 EWG found that levels of chlorinated Tris, a replacement for PBDEs, were similarly elevated in young children.

"Nearly a decade ago, when I learned that my daughter had these chemicals in her blood, I did not even know what flame retardants were, much less what their hazards were,” said Spark. “Since then, research has linked flame retardants to an array of health problems. So I'm celebrating today’s news that CPSC is removing these toxic chemicals and protecting children. I hope the agency moves quickly to implement the ban.”

The vote was along party lines with the commission’s three democrats voting to support the petition. Removing these chemicals from products will not happen overnight, as the commission will appoint an expert panel of toxicologists to guide the agency on rulemaking. In the interim, there are simple steps parents can take now to significantly lower their children’s exposure to flame retardants. You can find our tips on how to protect your family here

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