Chemicals Lurking in Fire Retardant Children’s Clothes


“Our livelihood is intimately tied to the food we eat, water we drink and places where we recreate. That’s why we have to promote responsibility and conservation when it comes to our natural resources” – Mark Udall


What if you are buying a pajama for your kid and the label says “This sleepwear is treated with chemicals to make it fire retardant. These chemicals might not be safe for children”, will you still buy it? May be not. You might want to know more about it, before you decide to buy.

Size 9 months and up, children’s pajamas are required to meet flammability requirement. To meet these requirements some pajamas are treated with chemicals which make them flame retardant. Young children wearing these pajamas are wearing chemicals, touching their skin.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)-

To protect children from burns, [the flammability rules] require that children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish if a flame from a candle, match, lighter or a similar item causes it to catch fire. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear above size 9 months and up to size 14 and require that: (1) the fabric and garments must pass certain flammability tests; or (2) be “tight fitting” as defined by specified dimensions.

Most children sleepwear pajamas are coated with chemical layer to make them flame retardant. These chemicals pose a major health risk to our children. While PJs might look cute and you might be tempted to buy them, but not at the cost of skin allergies.

Why should children sleepwear be treated with harmful chemicals to protect them from fire. Why not day clothes? May be to keep kids safe from house fire at night. But when it comes to house fires, the CDC itself, in their Fire Death and Injuries Fact Sheet, says most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.

The CPSC has a National Burn Center Reporting System, where 92 of the 105 burn centers agreed to report burn injuries related to children’s clothing. From June 2004 through December 2005, about a 1.5-year time frame, here’s what they found (Read the report):

261 children were burned by their clothing (badly enough to go to a burn center), and one died. (3/4 of the children were boys.)

The most frequent scenario involved children playing with lighters or standing too close to outdoor fires. Almost half of the incidents involved accelerants such as gasoline.

None of the incidents involved children wearing 100% cotton tight fitting pajamas or infant garments size 9 months or smaller (which aren’t treated with flame retardants). (Also note, the clear majority of the children were wearing daytime clothes, although at least 14 children were wearing flame retardant pajamas.)

We must be cautious with what we expose our children to. Our world has turned from nature as a source of everything from food and medicine to clothing and almost everything in between. Man-made alternatives offer benefits in many situations, but come with a cost to the environment, and ultimately to our health.

Brominated flame retardant chemicals are added to sleepwear primarily due to the combustible nature of the synthetic fabrics most pajamas are made of. Most children’s pajamas are polyester, which is most often made from petroleum. The flame resistance is an extra step needed to counteract the flammable nature of these man-made fabrics, but this additional manufacturing process only “fixes” one bad idea with another.

A study published in August 2014 found that PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), the most commonly used fire-retardant chemicals, were linked to numerous health problems.

Researchers found the chemicals were to blame for:

  • Thyroid disruption
  • Early onset of puberty
  • Cognitive problems
  • Delayed mental and physical devolvement
  • The chemicals used to make pajamas and other consumer products flame-retardant show up in water, wildfire and human breast milk, “says pediatrician Michael Macknin, MD.

According to Dr. Macknin, the chemicals in fire retardants do diminish the flammability of products treated with them and have been associated with decreased burn injuries in children. However, the chemicals aren’t well-bound to the fabric fibers at times and can leech out. This allows the fire-retardant chemicals  to float free in the environment.

Clothing-related fire injuries in children are horrible, yet rare, tragedies. In 2011, there were more than 200 million (205,894,364) children ages 14 and under in America. Even if all 261 incidents occurred in one year’s time, that would mean an incident like this only happened to 0.0001% of children.

Avoiding flame retardants in your children’s pajamas is simple.

  1. Wear snug-fitting not flame resistant sleepwear.
  2. Check the labels. Flame resistant or “meets flammability requirements” are printed inside the back of the pajamas or on the tags. When ordering online, websites will disclose this info.
  3. Check the label for fabric composition. Opt for natural fabrics like cotton or wool and avoid synthetics such as polyester and nylon.
  4. Always avoid sleepwear labeled: “To retain fame resistance” or Flame resistant fabric”
  5. Look these labels instead:

“For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant.  Loose fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.” or simply “Wear snug-fitting, not flame resistant” They are the best. This indicates that the fabric is not inherently flame-resistant and has not been chemically treated. It is a good idea to follow the “snug-fitting rule” since loose fitting clothing captures air between the fabric and the child and ignites much easier when exposed to a flame. This also reduces the risk of suffocation in younger babies.

“Not intended for sleepwear” This seems to be common with cotton/poly blend thermal underwear and loose fitting flannel bottoms.

  1. Look for organic cotton made sung fitting “not flame resistance” sleepwear. They are the best choice for your young ones.

We want our children to be safe from any fire incidents. At the same time, we don’t want them to load with chemicals that are harmful to their skin.

Preventing a fire is your safest bet

  • The best way to protect your kids is to prevent a firein the first place. These tips can help:
  • Ensure your fire alarms have fresh batteries and are in good working order.
  • Have your furnace and water heater inspected each year.
  • Teach your children about fire safety.
  • Keep all matches and lighters well out of children’s reach.
  • Don’t smoke inside your home.
  • If you use candles, put them out before bed and before leaving your home.
  • Unplug Christmas or electric holiday decorations before bed and before leaving your home.

These common-sense fire safety tips make more sense than exposing your children to potentially harmful chemicals embedded in fire-retardant clothing and products, Dr. Macknin says.

Kids safety is of utmost importance to parents and its duty of every parent to stay updated on the information about hundreds of chemicals lurking in our homes and closets.

Read more

Resources:

http://www.pediatricsafety.net
http://www.keeperofthehome.org
                 “Killer Clothes” written by Anna Maria Clement, PhD, NMD, LN and Brian R. Clement, PhD, NMD, LN

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/12/can-wearing-fire-retardant-pajamas-         affect-your-childs-health/
http://www.whistlepighollow.com

Image courtesy: Candice Rose

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