Friday, February 7, 2014

Shopping for kids' stuff? You've got to read this.

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Photo by amseaman via Flickr
Recently I had to buy a new car booster seat for my older child, who is four. She'd outgrown her toddler carseat, and as I usually do with any significant purchase, I did my homework.

I wanted the booster with the best safety rating. It had to perform well in crashes, and protect the head and neck, not just the body. After lots of reading, I settled on just the right model, and ordered the chic-yet-practical black-and-gray one. And then I started to fret.

While I'd spent hours poring over crash test results, there was no way to know what kinds of toxic flame retardants had been used in the carseats I was reviewing. Manufacturers in the U.S. don't have to share that information, even though many of the flame retardants used in children's products like carseats have been linked to neurological harm and increased risk of cancer. She's going to be sitting in that thing every day, inhaling whatever it's off-gassing, snuggling up in it (mouth open, drooling) during long car trips to her grandparents' house. I don't want to expose her to anything that could put her health at risk.

And this is the conundrum I find myself in almost every time I have to buy something for my kids. Carseat, bed, shoes, sippy cups... there's no way to know what kinds of toxics are in there.

Until now. Because in 2008 Washington state passed a law that highlighted 66 "Chemicals of Concern" -- things like the toxic flame retardants -- used in children's products. The largest manufacturers now have to actually test their products for the 66 toxics on the list and - get this! - make the information public. Seriously. Public.

So they've just started releasing the results, and they're not pretty. Washington Toxics Coalition just released a report on what manufacturers like Target, Walmart, Nike and Walgreens reported from March to September 2013 (read the report here). 

Among the total 4,605 reports of toxic chemicals in children’s products are reports of toxic flame retardants linked to cancer, learning disabilities and fertility problems. In the report’s findings:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) was reported in plastic used in dolls and soft toys. BPA is a developmental and reproductive toxicant.
  • Antimony trioxide, a carcinogen, was reported in toy vehicles.
  • The Tris flame retardant TCEP was reported in baby car seats. It is a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant.
  • Children’s plastic plates, bowls, mugs and cups, drinking glasses and other tableware was reported as containing ethylbenzene, toluene, and phthalates as well as formaldehyde.
  • The flame retardant deca-BDE was reported in the plastic of baby car and booster seats, even though manufacturers made a voluntary agreement with EPA in 2009 to end the use of deca-BDE in most products by now, and deca-BDE was banned in Washington state in 2007.
I have to confess that reading this report made me want to pack up my kids (without carseats) and go live in a cave somewhere. But I got over that, and now I'm just mad again. Mad at manufacturers who choose shoddy chemical ingredients over our kids' health. Mad at Congress for taking so long to fix the federal toxics law that's the reason for all these "Chemicals of Concern" in our kids' lives. But also grateful for the steps forward that Washington State has taken, and hopeful that North Carolina will follow suit before too long.

Check out to let the nation's largest retailers know that it's time to get the toxics out of the stuff they're selling us.

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