The JustGreen Partnership
A clean and safe environment is every person’s birthright. It is not a privilege exclusively for the wealthy and well-connected, but a right for everyone. Safeguarding the natural environment can't be separated from promoting social justice. All people have a right to a world free of exposure to harmful chemicals in our air, water and food, where children grow up healthy with every opportunity to thrive. The JustGreen Partnership seeks to build a healthy economy that provides good jobs producing clean products and services, in which our workplaces, schools, homes, communities and bodies are free of toxic chemicals.
Albany, NY – Independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and released in New York by the JustGreen Partnership 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 today. “Companies that sell these products need to know that parents want safer products made without these harmful chemicals.”
In July and August, CEH, JustGreen Partners and allies purchased 42 items of children’s furniture from retailers in 13 states and Canada, including three from New York – two from the Albany area and one from New York City. Items were sent to Duke University researcher Dr. Heather Stapleton, one of the country’s foremost researchers on testing for flame retardant chemicals in consumer products, for laboratory analysis.
“I’m tired of saying ‘no’ to my girls when they want something fun – like one of these chairs – because there are toxic chemicals lurking in them, unlabeled and invisible. It makes them sad, and it makes me mad,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, Deputy Director for Clean and Healthy New York, who was joined at the news conference by her two daughters, ages 8 and 3. “It’s not my fault, and it’s not their fault – retailers like buybuy Baby and Babies”R”Us and their suppliers like Disney brands need to take responsibility and ensure all products made and sold for young children are safe and healthy.”
Dr. Stapleton’s analysis found four flame retardant chemicals (including two chemicals that are mixtures of various flame retardants) in 38 of 42 products tested. Two products, including one in New York, contained more than one chemical. The chemicals found were:
- Firemaster 550 (found in 22 items): a mixture of four chemicals; studies have linked exposure to Firemaster 550 with obesity and disruption of the bodies’ natural hormone functioning. Hormone altering effects are troubling in children’s products, since children’s developing bodies are especially vulnerable to hormonal changes. Two chairs purchased in New York contained this chemical mixture.
- TCPP (Tris, 15 items): animal studies have linked exposure to TCPP to genetic damage and changes in the length of the menstrual cycle. One chair purchased in New York contained TCPP.
- TDCPP (chlorinated Tris, 2 items) is identified as a chemical known to cause cancer by the state of California and the National Research Council. Studies have also linked exposures to genetic damage, effects on fertility and natural hormones, and damage to developing embryos. Health concerns forced companies to remove TDCPP from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s yet it is still used today in furniture and other products. One chair purchased in New York contained TDCPP in addition to the Firemaster 550 blend noted above.
- Butylated Triphenyl Phosphate (1 item): According to the EPA, health concerns associated with exposures to Butylated Triphenyl Phosphate, a mixture of four chemicals, include decreased fertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.
“The incidence of learning disabilities and related impairments such as autism is increasing at an alarming rate, while at the same time we learn more and more about neurotoxic chemicals in products used every day with and around children,” said Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State. “We must leave no stone unturned in addressing this epidemic and assure that all products used by children are safe, and that corporate profits don’t trump our children’s health and safety.”
"The laboratory analysis doesn't lie: Products purchased at well-known retailers and carrying a trusted brand name likely contain toxic chemicals that can make kids sick," said NYPIRG Legislative Counsel Russ Haven. "Parents are shopping in the dark when they buy children's products and the only way forward is to ban the use of toxic chemicals in children's and household consumer products."
Children are more vulnerable to toxic flame retardant chemicals than adults because of their behaviors and physical needs. Children put their hands in their mouths often, and touch whatever is near them. Infants and toddlers crawl and play where dust containing high levels of flame retardants settles in homes, daycares and schools. A (2011) study from UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research found that toddlers carry an average three times higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies than the levels found in their mothers. Other recent studies show that children of color and children from low-income communities have higher levels of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than levels found in white children.
"I was horrified to discover that the Disney Princess chair I bought in New York had high levels of a chemical that have been linked to obesity and hormone disruption," said Ansje Miller, Eastern States Director for the Center for Environmental Health. "The kids that these chairs are designed for are at a vulnerable time in their development and I shudder to think at how these chemicals are affecting their health throughout their lifetimes."
“Shame on Disney for selling children’s Princess, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse chairs containing toxic flame retardants,” said Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Parents should be able to trust that Disney products are safe, not toxic. We shouldn’t have to worry about our little princes and princess being exposed to poisonous chemicals. It’s time for Disney to make our dreams come true and eliminate these unnecessary dangerous chemicals.”
Flame retardant chemicals are used in these products despite their lack of efficacy largely due to TB 117, an outdated, decades-old California flammability standard that focused on requiring foam inside furniture to withstand a small open flame. This approach fails to meet real world conditions, since in a fire the outside fabric ignites first. Fire safety scientists say that once fabric ignites, the fire will be too large to be controlled by the chemical flame retardants used in foam – thus rendering the chemicals virtually useless for fire safety. California has proposed a new flammability rule, TB 117-2013, slated to go into effect on January 1, 2014, which requires furniture exteriors to be flame resistant, and exempts children’s products as they are not sources of ignition for house fires. CEH and its partner organizations expect many companies will make the switch to safer, flame-retardant free products quickly. However, as the results of this study show, it is unclear whether these benefits will reach across the country to products sold in New York.
For that reason, and because the new California regulation does not ban the use of flame retardants in foam, JustGreen Partners called for the following actions:
- New York State must pass and implement the Child Safe Products Act, which passed in the Assembly 101-30, and which ended the 2013 session with 37 of 63 Senate co-sponsors.
- Baby product retailers, especially market leaders buybuy Baby and Babies”R”Us must establish and enforce chemicals management policies that ensure all products on their store shelves – physical or on-line – are safe for families, as called for by the Getting Ready for Baby campaign (www.gettingready4baby.org)
- Parents should express their outrage to product makers, retailers and policymakers, while taking steps to keep toxic chemicals away from their children by avoiding products made with polyurethane foam.
- Congress must act to address the now-broken overarching chemicals management law, the Toxic Substance Control Act, and enact new, strong legislation to keep toxic chemicals out of the marketplace that should never have been approved to begin with.
“Government allows corporations to deceive parents,” said Saima Anjam of Environmental Advocates of New York. “Too many parents are unaware that they are bringing dangerous chemicals into their homes because they are hidden where we’d least suspect: toys, crib mattresses and children’s clothing. We deserve broad reform, like the Child Safe Products Act, to become law so we can start to turn off the toxic tap.”
The JustGreen Partnership is a collaboration of 50 organizations across New York State working for environmental health and justice for New York’s people and communities. Partners include Clean and Healthy New York, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Center for Environmental Health, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, American Sustainable Business Council, Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, New York State United Teachers, New York State Nurses Association, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and Environmental Advocates of New York. Learn more at www.just-green.org
Copies of the report are available at http://www.ceh.org/news-events/press-releases/content/playing-on-poisons-childrens-furniture-found-with-harmful-flame-retardant-chemicals/
Swift Floor Consideration by Majority Coalition Leaders Urged
(Albany) With four days remaining in the 2013 legislative session, children are one step closer to seeing toxic chemicals disclosed to their parents and removed from their products. On Thursday, June 13th, Senator Squadron became the 32nd Senator to co-sponsor the Child Safe Products Act (S.4614). Therefore, a majority of the Senate officially backs the measure, aimed at safeguarding children’s health through stricter regulation of toxic chemicals.
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