Who thought shopping for pajamas for a 2 year old could be stressful? I unassumingly took my son to the store and gave him carte blanche to choose some warm pajamas for the upcoming cooler months. He immediately gravitated towards a pair with a fire engine print. I picked it up to look at it and noticed several tags hanging from it, one of which proudly declared that the garment was flame resistant (translation: chemicals)! Why had I never noticed this? Have I been innocently putting my kids to bed wrapped up in chemicals? I needed answers.
Are Flame Retardants the New Black?
Flame retardants became en vogue in the 70’s when children’s pajamas were the first to receive this ‘protection’ thanks to the Federal Government. Without any testing or studies completed, manufacturers immediately began adding the flame retardant ‘brominated and/or chlorinated tris’ to their fabrics to ensure their pajamas passed flammability tests.
We have since learned that both forms of Tris flame retardants are responsible for causing mutations in DNA, disrupting the thyroid, causing cancer etc… because they leach into our children’s bodies via their pajamas (DUH!). In 1977, Brominated Tris was determined to be a potent carcinogen, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned Tris from children’s sleepwear (but not in other fabrics like your sofa). Sadly though, the irresponsible use of these chemicals have long lasting effects on all life forms with very high concentrations still being found in killer whales washed ashore on the West Coast! The state of California has listed the flame retardant chemical chlorinated Tris as a known cause of cancer.
But not to worry, a new and safer (not!) alternative was approved for use…enter PBDEs
Hi PBDEs, I’m Libby!
If you’ve never heard of PBDE (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether) you should acquaint yourself, after all you’re living with them…we all are!
Household products ranging from kids’ pajamas, to furniture, to computers release these brominated flame retardants. The obvious goal of these chemicals is to reduce the risk that the product will catch fire. The problem however, is that these chemicals via dust and off-gasing enter the body and accumulate. These same chemicals have recently been turning up in tests done on breastmilk! Sadly, testing has also determined that toddlers and preschoolers typically had 3 times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers! These nasties, bioaccumulate in our environments and our bodies.
Why are our children more polluted by these chemicals than us? Because these nasty PBDEs stick to kids’ hands, toys, furniture or other objects that they put in their mouths, not to mention wrap their bodies in for a full night of slumber!
But I Digress, The Good News is….
PBDEs are now banned in the EU and the US but are obviously still very present in our environment and anything flame retardant (including children’s pajamas) manufactured prior to December 2013. Sadly, Canada who vowed to be a world leader in chemical reduction, has gone radio silent on the matter.
So What’s the Moral of This Pajama Story?
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission now states that less than 1 percent of children’s sleepwear is treated for flame-resistance but this is no time to be complacent, as this does not mean that 99 percent of jammies are safe. It’s really all just a play on words! Just because the pajamas themselves weren’t treated does not mean that the original fabric wasn’t treated prior to its transition into jammies. Many parents have expressed concern over NOT having flame resistent sleepwear, so many manufacturers are now selling 100% cotton pajamas treated with a flame retardant chemical called PROBAN. These are what you want to stay away from.
‘Proban’ is made from a chemical called Tetrakis-Hydromethyl Phosphonium Chloride (THPC). This chemical allows its flame retardant molecules to penetrate the fabric and form a water insoluble polymer, thus maintaining the softness of cotton yet if the fabric comes into contact with the flame, it will extinguish itself! (EEK!)
Libby, What Pajamas Do Your Kids Wear?
Those of you who know me, know that I research the heck out of most things, hence my blog :-). I am happy to do the research for all of us and share my findings here because at the end of the day we all want the same things: safe, healthy and happy kids. I also always like to end on a positive note. There is enough negativity in the world and the last thing I want to foster here is a feeling of frustration or helplessness-not on my watch! I prefer an approach of education and action. My action when shopping for non-chemical laden children’s pajamas is:
1. Because the CPSC still requires all non flame-resistent sleepwear be labeled as such, it makes it easier to shop. If the pajama has a label that reads:
“For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire”,
then I probably want to buy it! That label assures me that the pajamas have not been treated with flame retardant chemicals. These are an example of what to look for.
2. My second trick is to look for a label on clothing that declares that it “is not intended for use as sleepwear”. In Libby speak that means that it has not been treated with flame retardants.
3. Go straight for the organic pajamas.
One more thing….
If you really want to kick things up a notch, avoid pajamas printed with PVC plastic cartoons because they are laden with hormone disrupting phthalates. Health Canada’s perspective is that unless that vinyl has a good chance of being mouthed, it’s not a concern, whereas Denmark is working to convince the EU to ban phthalates from all consumer products designed for indoor use.