The United States has a long, complex history with flame retardants.
In 1953, the Flammable Substances Act (FFA) was passed to regulate highly flammable fabrics such as children’s pajamas, upholstery, carpets and certain textiles.
In the 1970s, brominated and chlorinated flame retardants were identified as carcinogenic and mutagenic (which causes mutations) in DNA. They have been replaced with newer brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, but even the newer options have been found to accumulate in the environment, in house dust, as well as in humans and wildlife.
Today data shows that these newer compounds can be carcinogenic (cancer causing), mutagenic (able to induce gene mutations), neurotoxic (brain damaging), and endocrine (disrupting the body’s hormones).
A study by the University of California at Riverside recently published in Scientific Reports shows that the flame retardants found in almost every American household cause mice to produce offspring who become diabetic.
What are the flame retardants and where are they?
The flame retardants in question are known as PBDEs and have been linked to diabetes in adult humans.
Although the use of PBDEs has been banned in the US, they can be found in many items throughout your home – including carpets, furniture, curtains, fabrics, bedding, and small appliances – due to inadequate recycling or in imported items and vintage items.
The study’s authors wanted to investigate whether human infants born to mothers exposed to PBDE were at greater risk of developing diabetes, so they addressed this in the mouse population.
The mothers of the mice received low PBDE values during pregnancy and lactation, comparable to the average human exposure. The researchers monitored both mothers and offspring. While some mothers of mice developed some glucose intolerance, all of the baby mice developed the typical signs of diabetes.
The study results show that chemicals like PBDE can be passed on to offspring through exposure of a mother. The next step is to investigate whether human babies who have been exposed to PBDE before birth and while breastfeeding will also become diabetic children. This is of particular concern as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the incidence of type 1 diabetes increased by 30% in 2020, with cases in children increasing sharply.
PJs for children, revised
“There are two ways to avoid pajamas made from textiles that have been treated with flame retardants,” said dermatologist Dr. Erum Ilyas, CEO and founder of AmberNoon, a chemical-free sun protection apparel line. She was not involved in the study.
“Children’s pajamas between the ages of nine months and 14 must be made from flame-retardant fabrics if they are loose,” said Dr. Ilyas to Medical Daily. One way to get around the use of these flame retardants is to make sure the fit is snug. “This prevents loosely hanging fabrics from being exposed to a risk of flames and reduces the build-up of oxygen between the skin and the fabric to reduce overall flammability.”
Remember that the Flammable Materials Act was passed at a time when smoke alarms and other fire protection measures were not widely available.
To see if your child’s pajamas contain these flame retardants, look for a yellow label that says, “For child’s safety, clothing should be snug. These garments are not flame retardant. Loose clothing is more likely to catch fire. ”
Another way to avoid flame retardants is to buy 100% polyester pajamas. “Polyester is inherently flame retardant,” said Dr. Ilyas. The labels on these garments state “flame retardant”.
“While these endocrine and mutagenic flame retardants may still be found in some pajamas, they are rarely used by manufacturers as many have chosen to ensure a snug fit or use polyester,” said Dr. Ilyas.
To reduce exposure to these chemicals, researchers recommend washing hands before eating, vacuuming frequently, and buying furniture, bedding, and other household products that don’t contain them.