Flame Retardants in the Home and What You Need to Know Now

TB 117 Label

Before my daughter was born, I thought about the type of measures my husband and I should take to ensure her safety. We considered the ways to keep her safe from physical harm and reduce her exposure to toxic everyday chemicals such as paints and finishes, cleaning products, pesticides, and fragrance (phthalate) laden products.

But one category that I think we missed or underestimated is flame retardants. The more I dig into this topic, the more unsettling it becomes. Flame retardants are in a vast majority of household goods from televisions to couches to mattresses. They can even be found in your child’s sleepwear and car seat. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that U.S. toddlers and preschoolers typically have three times the amount of flame retardant based chemicals in their bloodstream than the mothers of the same group. This is such a major concern because the chemical tainted dust from our household products “sticks” to the surfaces children touch and mouth on a daily basis. The chemicals affect neurological and reproductive development and the long-term effect is unknown.

So if these chemicals are so toxic, why are they in so many of our products? Obviously fires are a big concern, but what is riskier: the potential flammability of a product or the chemicals used to stop flammability of consumer products? One of the major reasons why flame retardants have found their way into so many products is because of the passing of California’s Technical Bulletin 117 which requires that upholstered furniture sold in California be able to withstand 12 seconds of open flame. Unfortunately, this mandate also applies to juvenile furniture and has encouraged the addition of retardants to a wide spectrum of products sold nationwide.

If all of this seems overwhelming to you or upsetting, you’re not alone. I have a hard time grasping why these dangerous chemicals have any right getting near my precious baby. I also don’t appreciate feeling like I need a PhD in chemistry to understand the risks as well as to find safer products. I do have a few suggestions, however:

What tips do you suggest for reducing your family’s chemical exposure?

Kate likes to drive her husband nuts by jumping down the rabbit hole of researching ways to make their home safer. Much to her husband’s dismay (and her delight), she recently chucked two old, fraying, salmon-colored (read: hideous) armchairs. The upside is that her living room now seems much lighter and larger. When she’s not calculating her next move in the battle against toxic chemicals, she enjoys exploring her new city with her little one and hubby.

It’s Easy Being Green with Your Toddler

If your toddler is anything like mine, he turns nearly every foray into the great outdoors into a goose turd and cigarette butt scavenger hunt.  My 17mo has sharply-honed radar and eagle-like visual acuity for garbage. Y’all, it’s impressive.  His curiosity and affection for litter is, I believe, rivaled only by a certain trashcan-inhabiting muppet’s. Not too long ago, my son eagerly pawed a piece of trash at the park, and I habitually offered my usual response, “Ooooh, yucky. Please don’t pick up that trash.”  But for some reason, at that particular moment, I gulped, wide-eyed, at a sudden realization: Am I inadvertently teaching my son that litter belongs on the ground? That it’s okay to toss trash in the park? Littering sucks!

From that point on, whenever he palmed a bit of garbage I offered a different response, “Ooooh, yucky. Let’s go put that in the trash can.” I have to admit that I am still squeamish about his trash handling. I mean, I want to encourage him to responsibly dispose of trash, but at the same time I don’t want to encourage him to pick up really questionable items.  I try to scan around for those kinds of items now with the hopes of beating my rubbish-loving half-pint to the nearest receptacle. Three cheers and cartwheels for hand sanitizer!

There are so many ways to be green with your little one. Yep, there are lots of practices that many of us have adopted with an eco-friendly aim: breastfeeding, using cloth diapers/cloth wipes/elimination communication, purchasing natural/organic/sustainably produced baby and household products, buying or borrowing second-hand clothing and toys, etc. These practices are laudable and awesome, no doubt, but I want to discuss things we can do with our tots, practices that actively engage them in green living and stoke their sense of stewardship for the Earth and its creatures.

Litter pick-up is one effective and free (and, heck yeah, disgusting) way to instill a bit of eco-consciousness in our tykes. These are some of the other things we do in our family with that green goal in mind:

  • We grow stuff together! I planted flowers, herbs, and vegetables with my son this spring. (I welcome dirty hands of that variety any ol’ time.) I also let him pick out the flowers for our front-porch container gardens.
  • We water our plants together every day. And, instead of buying a watering can (made out of who-only-knows-what), we made our own by reusing items we already had on hand. (Inspired by this kick-ass pin.)
  • We feed little creatures together. We have several bird feeders and have even set up a few small squirrel feeders. We spend time watching the birds and squirrels together.
  • We visit nature nature conservation centers and animal sanctuaries.
  • We visit and support our neighborhood’s weekly farmer’s market. Can my toddler understand the value of giving money directly to the person who collected the eggs/picked the veggies/harvested the honey we’re purchasing? Of course not. But he sees this nourishment just one step removed from its origin, in all its freshness and vibrant color.
  • We recycle together. Several times each week we walk out to the giant steel recycling receptacle in our street’s back alley and take turns tossing in our recyclables.
  • We play outside. Almost every day.
  • We walk. To the library. To the coffee shop. To the park. To the gelateria. To the grocery store. And on our walks we pick and smell flowers; we feel the textures of different leaves and compare their colors.

These are small, inexpensive, yet meaningful practices. We’re far from perfect.  But we hope that by enfolding our son in the practices bulleted above, by modeling an active appreciation for the natural world, by making du jour these acts of kindness and respect,  we’re creating a lush springboard for our son’s eco-consciousness.

Tell us how you are green with your little ones!

Rhianna is off to take her toddler on his post-dinner, pre-bedtime walk through the park, where she hopes to successfully steer him far from goose turds. Seriously, what is with toddlers and goose poop? Somebody, explain it to her.