Harmful Flame Retardant Chemicals in Kids’ Furniture

Kids’ products with Disney, Marvel, Nickolodeon characters contain chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other serious health problems.

Minneapolis, MN – Independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), with support from Healthy Legacy, has found harmful flame retardant chemicals in children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased from Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys”R” Us/Babies “R” Us, buybuy Baby and other major retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Many of the items found with flame retardants are designed with colorful children’s characters including Disney Princesses, Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer, Marvel Comics Spiderman and others. Fire safety scientists say that flame retardant chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, infertility and other serious health problems, do not provide fire safety benefits in furniture.

“Most parents would never suspect that their children could be exposed to toxic flame retardant chemicals when they sit on a Mickey Mouse couch, but our report shows that children’s foam furniture can carry hidden health hazards,” said CEH’s Judy Levin, co-author of the report “Playing on Poison” released by CEH today.

“As a parent, I would have no idea that potentially harmful chemicals were in kids furniture,” says ______ , “These chemical don’t belong in kids furniture and parents need assurances that products are safe before they hit the store shelves.”

In July and August, CEH, Healthy Legacy and other partner groups purchased 42 items of children’s furniture from major retailers in 13 states and Canada. Items were sent to Duke University researcher Heather Stapleton for laboratory analysis. Dr. Stapleton’s analysis found four flame retardant chemicals in 38 of 42 products tested. The chemicals found were:

  • Firemaster 550, a mixture of four chemicals (found in 22 items): Studies link exposure with obesity and hormone disruption, which is troubling as children are especially vulnerable to hormone disrupting chemicals.
  • TCPP or Tris (found in 15 items): Animal studies link exposure to genetic damage and changes in the length of the menstrual cycle.
  • TDCPP, chlorinated Tris (found in 2 items): Tris is a known carcinogen according to the state of California and the National Research Council. Studies link exposure to genetic damage, adverse effects on fertility and developing embryos and hormone disruption. Health concerns forced companies to remove TDCPP from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s, yet it is still widely used today in furniture and other products.
  • Butylated Triphenyl Phosphate, a mixture of four chemicals (1 item): According to the EPA, health concerns associated with exposure include decreased fertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.

“These chemical don’t stay in the product, but are released into household dust, exposing children, who have greater vulnerability and exposure. For example, one study found three times higher levels of flame retardants in children compared with their parents,” noted Kathleen Schuler, Healthy Legacy Co-Director.

Flame retardant chemicals are used in these products despite their lack of efficacy largely due to an outdated California flammability standard, which will be updated effective January 1, 2014 to allow companies to comply by switching to safer, flame-retardant free design. The Business and Institutional Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has stated, “…we believe the risks associated with the use of these [flame retardant] chemicals is greater than the hazard associated with the fire risk from furniture without fire retardants… Many furniture purchasers are looking for safer, more environmentally friendly products that do not contain chemicals of concern, including fire retardants.”

>Healthy Legacy is a 37-member public health coalition dedicated to protecting children and families from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products. Healthy Legacy is advocating for the Toxic Free Kids Act to require that manufacturers disclose to state agencies if they have certain priority chemicals in their children’s products.