“Everyone has a fear of fire.” These words start the trailer for HBO’s documentary Toxic Hot Seat, a 2013 film exploring the overwhelming presence of flame retardant chemicals in homes, humans, animals, and ecosystems around the globe. How did they get into nearly everything we buy? What are they for, and are they really helping?
You’ll find flame retardants in mattresses, couches, car seats, electronics, and building insulation. On the surface, they seem to make sense. Of course we want to reduce the risk of potential fires. However, flame retardants are a very controversial ingredient used in consumer products because they come with potential health risks.
Toxic flame retardant exposure builds up in the body and has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, cardiovascular disease, cognitive delays, and decreased fertility. Flame retardant chemicals affect people and animals both inside and outside the home. Babies and children are especially at risk due to their still-developing bodies and endocrine systems.
Flame Retardant Legislation
Some states have regulations on the books to ban use of certain flame retardants (see map by Safer States in the link above), and even a federal regulation or two has addressed them. But the trouble comes when manufacturers have the option to simply switch to another chemical that isn’t banned or regulated.
There’s also legislation around flammability standards for products like mattresses, sofas, and other household furnishings. Today’s modern performance materials like polyurethane foam (memory foam included) might feel comfortable, but they are quite flammable. Hence the need for flame retardant chemicals to meet safety standards legislated by the government.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to avoid flame retardants. By using fabrics or components that come pre-treated with flame retardants, it is possible for manufacturers to claim “no flame retardant chemicals added” – even though there are still flame retardant chemicals in the mattress or product.
How to Avoid Flame Retardant Chemicals
By now, you’re probably ready to start reducing your exposure to flame retardant chemicals, and we don’t blame you. The Environmental Working Group has a great resource to help identify common exposures and ways to avoid flame retardant chemicals, including:
– Research baby products before you buy them to make sure you select items made without flame retardants
– Choose new furniture made without flame retardants
– Replace your couch’s foam when you have it reupholstered
– Inspect foam-containing furniture for damage and degradation
– Use a vacuum with a HEPA air filter to trap small particles and contaminants
– Use caution when removing old carpeting
– Choose children’s pajamas made from natural fibers with a snug fit
Of course, you should also know what you’re looking at when it comes to reading product labels. On Naturepedic products, you’ll read that the item meets all federal flammability standards without the need for flame retardant chemicals or chemical flame barriers of any kind.
While this disclaimer is a little wordy, it’s important to us to be completely transparent and take the guesswork out of things. We simply don’t include flame retardants because our products are made with materials that are naturally fire resistant.
The Truth About Flame Retardants in Mattresses
The simple truth is that you spend eight or more hours a day in bed, surrounded by whatever materials are in your mattress. Choosing a mattress made without flame retardants helps you avoid exposure to such chemicals for at least a third of your day. Remember, too, that babies spend up to eighteen hours a day sleeping, so their crib mattress is a crucial component of a safer sleep environment in your home.
The choice is yours!