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Hazardous chemicals found in day care centers
May 15th, 2014
05:44 PM ET

Hazardous chemicals found in day care centers

More than half of all young children in the United States attend a day care center or preschool, sometimes spending up to 50 hours a week at these facilities. Their parents should listen up:

A new study, published in the journal Chemosphere, finds these child care centers can host high levels of dangerous, flame-retardant chemicals.

Lead study author Asa Bradman recalls first learning about the dangers of some of these chemicals when he was in high school.

"You know, 35 years later, I'm surprised to find these materials in an environment where young children spend a lot of time," he said.

Bradman is associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.

The study authors evaluated the dust and air of 40 child care centers in California, ranging from in-home day care to private schools to government-funded preschool programs. Bradman and his colleagues surveyed the samples for 18 flame-retardant chemicals, including a family of chemicals known as PBDE's, some of which are banned by the European Union.

All of the dust samples had flame-retardant chemicals in them. The concentration levels were similar to what previous studies have found in homes, the study authors say. While all the dust samples were found to have traces of the tested compounds, flame-retardant levels in air samples were much lower.

There's a growing body of scientific evidence linking these chemicals to low birth weights, hormone imbalances and even cancer.

Arlene Blum, director of the Green Science Policy Institute, said the chemicals' potential impact on the brain and reproductive systems are of particular concern for young children because their systems are still developing. Young children are particularly vulnerable, explained Blum, because they "tend to crawl in the dust and put their hands in their mouths."

Blum, who was not involved in the study, said these flame-retardant chemicals likely made their way into the dust and air of schools from the foam of couches, furniture and children's products such as sleeping mats.

Bradman and his colleagues found that schools using upholstered furniture and foam napping mats had the highest concentrations of the chemicals.

"Child care environments aren't unlike other home and indoor environments," Bradman explained. "The message here is that child care is not uniquely unsafe for kids. Rather it's an environment that we haven't looked at much."

In a statement, the North American Flame Retardant Alliance said, "Independent research shows that flame retardants play an important role in protecting people from the devastation of fire. This layer of protection is particularly important for vulnerable populations, including the elderly and young children, who are disproportionately affected by fires."

“It’s important to remember that flame retardants, like all chemicals, are subject to review by the EPA and other governmental agencies in the U.S. and around the world.”

Blum said that there is good news in this. While foam companies long used flame retardants to meet safety standards, those standards are changing.

So how can parents tell if their child's day care's couch - or even their own furniture at home - has flame retardants in them? Look for a tag that says "CA TB-117," which indicates the product has flame retardant foam in it. A tag with "TB 117-2013" means no flame retardants are included.


soundoff (6 Responses)
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    May 18, 2014 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Petr Ruda

    This fact of cancer causing chemicals found in the Day Care Centers is very concerning to me. I know that any change costs more money. It is very sad that sometimes money is more important than lives of children. I think we need more research to be done in this area and maybe pay more attention to European Research Science and understand their reasoning of banning certain materials.

    May 27, 2014 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • arakelian

      that's why is better with less. Less plastic toys, less activities in house, les supermarkets, les cleaning chemicals etc

      April 28, 2015 at 07:15 | Report abuse |
  3. Lauren

    Your last statement is not true. Just because something is labeled TB117-2013 doesn't mean it's free of chemical flame retardants. It just means that it might be. There are no laws requiring manufacturers to disclose whether or not a product has flame retardants, and I can be really hard to find out. TB117-2013 allows foam to not have flame retardants, but it doesn't ban the use of them either.

    August 12, 2014 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 15, 2014 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jessica

    This article neglects to mention that California is the only state that required flame retardants in foams for residential furnishings and still requires it for public spaces. Therefore it makes sense that California's DayCare Centers would test positively for flame retardant residue. (No need to make parents across the country panic) Just recently has California given manufacturers the option to discontinue use of flame retardant foams for residential use with TB 117-2013. However, of equal concern to Californians should be California's Technical Bulletin 133 that requires upholstered furniture for ALL public spaces- meaning schools (including licensed day care facilities) to be flame retardant. TB 133 can apply in other states/ cities as well.

    November 19, 2014 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply

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