The United States has a long, complex history with flame retardants.
In 1953, the Flammable Substances Act (FFA) was passed to regulate highly flammable substances such as children's pajamas, upholstery, carpets and certain textiles.
In the 1970s, brominated and chlorinated flame retardants were identified in DNA as carcinogenic and mutagenic (which causes mutations). They have been replaced with newer brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, but the newer options have also been found to accumulate in the environment, in house dust, and in humans and wildlife.
Today, data shows that these newer compounds can be carcinogenic (carcinogenic), 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 diabetics.
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 United States, they are found in many items throughout your home – including carpets, furniture, curtains, fabrics, bedding, and small appliances – due to insufficient recycling or in imported items and vintage items.
The study's authors wanted to investigate whether human infants born to mothers exposed to PBDE are 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 has increased by 30% in 2020, with cases in children increasing sharply.
PJs for children, revised
"There are two ways to avoid pajamas made from flame retardant-treated textiles," explained dermatologist Erum Ilyas, MD, CEO and founder of AmberNoon, a chemical-free sunscreen apparel line. She was not involved in the study.
"Children's pajamas between the ages of nine months and 14 years must be made of flame-retardant fabric 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 the 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 clothing 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 say "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 your hands before eating, vacuuming frequently, and buying furniture, bedding, and other household products that don't contain them.