Baby Products Found to Contain Hazardous Chemicals

BALTIMORE, Maryland, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Toxic chemicals can be found in common baby products in the United States, such as teethers, bath books, and sleep accessories, according to a new report released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG) based on testing of these items.

"The Right Start: The Need to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals from Baby Products," documents toxic chemicals, including phthalates and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), in commercially available products.

MaryPIRG released the report in 20 cities on Wednesday as part of a nationwide effort to draw attention to the problem of toxic chemicals in baby products and support for legislation requiring safer products. Each state Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) is independent and locally based, and they cooperate nationally.

positioner

Infant in a sleep positioner. Flame retardant chemicals may protect the baby from fire, but the chemicals themselves are toxic. (Photo credit unknown)
MaryPIRG tested seven infant sleep accessories, such as mattress pads and sleep wedges, for the presence of toxic flame retardants (PBDEs) and 18 other children’s products, such as bath books and teethers, for the presence of a set of chemicals known as phthalates.

MaryPIRG found that three of the seven infant sleep accessories tested contained toxic flame retardants in the foam materials. For example, the Leachco Sleep ‘n Secure 3-in-1 Infant Sleep Positioner, and the First Years’ Air Flow Sleep Positioner contained these chemicals, the research group said.

Jamie Leach, founder and product designer for Leachco, an 18 year old Oklahoma company, said only that she is preparing a "formal response" to the report, which will be released in about 14 days. Leach is a former critical care pediatrics nurse, and her husband, Clyde, president of Leachco, is the former head of a commercial crop dusting company.

In the interim, Leachco released a statment by Clyde Leach, saying, "In light of the recent report, we understand your concerns and want to assure you that Leachco complies with all state and federal regulations in the production and manufacturing of our all of our products, and this applies to our Sleep 'n Secure."

"If state and federal guidelines change, or are modified in anyway, we will follow the same state and federal recommendations with full compliance, as we do now, and have always done," Leach states.

Fifteen of the 18 bath books, teethers, bath toys and other products tested for phthalates contained these chemicals in their materials, MaryPIRG reports. Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics. The European Union has banned several of them in products for children under three years of age because testing has shown that the chemicals can leach into saliva when the toys or teethers are chewed and sucked.

One product tested by MaryPIRG, Sassy’s "Who Loves Baby? Photo Book," was labeled "phthalate-free," but the tests found two types of phthalates, DEHP and DBP, in this product. These two chemicals are banned in the European Union in products for children under three.

Sassy products are distributed through mass market retailers, food chains, drug stores, catalogs, and independent baby and toy stores in the United States and in 29 other countries. Sassy President Fritz Hersch was unavailable for comment.

book

Bath book (Photo credit unknown)
"A child’s first few years are an exciting time for parents who hope that their child starts his or her life happy and healthy," said Ben Clinton, assistant director of citizen outreach for MaryPIRG.

"Unfortunately, parents do not have the information they need to adequately protect their children from toxic chemicals," said Clinton. Our government should give parents this information, and ultimately remove toxic chemicals from children’s products."

As a result of its findings, MaryPIRG called on the U.S. government to phase out the most dangerous chemicals from children’s products. Until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acts, MaryPIRG called on state governments to fill the regulatory gap and support policies to phase out potentially hazardous chemicals.

The research group urges reform of U.S. chemicals policy to ensure that manufacturers and industrial users provide the public with adequate information about their products.

MaryPIRG called on Maryland Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, to cosponsor the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, which was introduced earlier this year.

MaryPIRG says the Consumer Product Safety Commission should protect consumers from dangerous products by labeling products that contain potentially hazardous chemicals, and then requiring manufacturers to remove chemicals that pose a particular threat to fetuses, infants, and children.

PBDEs are a set of chemicals used to slow the spread of fire. They have been linked to impaired learning and memory, reproductive defects, cancer, and impaired immune systems. Two of these chemicals have been banned in nine states, including Maryland, and the federal government has taken action to stop new production of these chemicals. But importation of products containing these chemicals is still allowed.

toys

Soft plastic toys may contain phthalates, softeners that can leach from the plastic into babies' saliva. (Photo credit unknown)
Phthalates are a family of chemicals used in many plastic products such as toys to improve flexibility and in personal care products to bind fragrance to the product. Phthalates have been linked to premature birth, reproductive defects, and early onset of puberty. People are exposed to phthalates through everyday contact with household and personal care products, as well as through contact with indoor air and dust.

"The cause of the recent epidemic of genital malformation in America’s boys has now been firmly linked to phthalates," said Dr. Lorne Garretson, a retired pediatrician and toxicologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We must change our use of plastics to reverse this threat to our unborn."

In the absence of government information and protection, MaryPIRG recommended that parents avoid allowing children to put polyvinylchlroide (PVC) plastic toys in their mouths, instead using glass containers for food and drink storage when possible.

In washing plastic products, parents were advised to avoid harsh dishwashing soap and hot water, both of which speed up the leaching process.

For a wallet sized tip sheet and survey, visit www.safefromtoxics.org.

"Parents cannot be expected to deal with these issues on their own," said Clinton. "The U.S. government must act to assist parents and ensure that products on the market are not potentially harmful for children."