Preschools and Flame Retardants: An Unwanted Connection

Posted in: Chemical Education
By Sebastian
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Preschools and Flame Retardants: An Unwanted Connection

Preschools and Flame Retardants

Flame retardant chemicals show up everywhere, and in places never intended: rivers, wildlife … and children. Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to a variety of potential health and developmental problems that include cancer and damage to the bodies’ hormonal systems.

Children appear to be at particularly risk for a variety of reasons. Not only do they spend large amounts of time laying down on mattresses, pads and floors, they also have frequent hand-to-mouth contact which hastens the introduction of rogue chemicals into their systems. Parents are now beginning to seek safer products for the home, like Naturepedic mattresses that are made without flame retardant chemicals. Still, what about nurseries and preschools?

Babies and young children can spend as much as 50 hours every week in preschools or childcare. Recognizing a lack of available scientific data on the preschool environment, a group of researchers from key institutions including the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH), Batelle Memorial Institute, the EPA, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the California Air Resources Board, joined to conduct research on the topic. The results, not surprisingly, were stark.

Study researchers measured flame retardants in air and dust collected from 40 California early childhood education facilities between May 2010 and May 2011. The study detected low levels of six polybrominated diphenyl ethers(PBDEs), persistent and bioaccumulative toxins, and four non-PBDE flame retardants present in the air (two including constituents of common flame retardant Firemaster 550 and two tris phosphate compounds: tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP) and tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCIPP). Both TCEP and TDCIPP have been declared carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65.

Tris phosphate, Firemaster 550 and PBDE compounds were detected in 100% of the dust samples. In 51% of facilities, TDCIPP dose estimates for children less than 6 years old exceeded age-specific “No Significant Risk Levels (NSRLs)” based on California Proposition 65 guidelines for carcinogens. Levels of TCEP and TDCIPP in dust were significantly higher in facilities offering foam napping products.

PBDEs, which were once frequently used as flame retardants in synthetic foams but which have largely been phased out of U.S. made furniture, continue to show up in humans and the environment. Research suggests early childhood exposure to PBDEs could be connected with neurodevelopmental issues.

While this study does not draw conclusions on any actual health risks presented by the findings, it does suggest a need for additional study and brings into question the safety of traditional foam sleeping mats and cots found in early childhood care facilities, and suggests flame retardant safety is not only important in the home but in our preschools and daycares as well.

The full research article, Flame retardant exposures in California early childhood education environments, was accepted Feb. 28, 2014 and published in the journal Chemosphere. An abstract is available at, which also includes a link to download the full text of the study.

5 years ago

Preschools and Flame Retardants: An Unwanted Connection

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