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Harmful Chemicals Cited in Daycare

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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Researchers in California say the presence of hazardous flame-retardant chemicals is widespread in child care facilities.

The study detected polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and non-PBDE flame retardants, including tris phosphate compounds, in air and floor dust samples in 40 child care centers, according to an announcement on the research.

The chemicals, used for decades in upholstered furniture and other products, have been linked to hormone disruption and lowered IQs, among other health issues.

Child care facilities
Grant Barrett / Wikimedia Commons

A new study of preschools and daycare centers in California finds flame retardants are prevalent indoors, potentially exposing young children to chemicals known to be hazardous, according to UC Berkeley.

The child care centers tested as a part of the new study serve more than 1,760 children in Monterey and Alameda counties. The facilities were located in a mix of urban, rural and agricultural areas, researchers said.

Led by University of California-Berkeley researchers and funded by the California Air Resources Board, the study was published online in the journal Chemosphere Thursday (May 15).

Study Details

Although many infants and young children spend up to 50 hours per week in day care, the study authors noted that this paper represents the first systematic review of flame retardants in early child care settings.

According to UC Berkeley, the researchers collected air and floor dust samples when children were present, and tested for 14 different PBDEs and four non-PBDE flame retardants.

PBDEs have been banned in California for nearly a decade, but remain in many indoor environments due to older furniture and products. The use of non-PBDE flame retardants increased since the 2006 ban, the researchers note. Studies have linked those chemicals to human health issues as well.

Chemicals Present in 100% of Dust Samples

UC Berkeley researchers found both PBDEs and tris phosphate compounds in 100 percent of the dust samples they collected at the daycare centers.

“These findings underscore how widespread these materials are in indoor environments,” said study lead author Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley.

“Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, so we should be particularly careful to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals,” Bradman added.

Stromcarlson / Wikimedia Commons

Indoor dust has been identified as a source of exposure to flame retardant chemicals.

Median levels of PBDEs were somewhat lower than those found in homes in other studies, but median levels of chlorinated tris were similar to or higher than household levels found in other studies, the researchers noted.

While flame retardants were commonplace in dust, levels of the chemicals were generally low in air samples, the researchers said.

The researchers said 29 of the facilities had upholstered furniture and 17 had napping equipment made out of foam. Those facilities with foam had “significantly higher concentrations of flame retardant chemicals than those centers without,” according to the researchers.

New Standard for Furniture

Flame-retardant chemicals have been added to foam products in California since the 1970s in order to meet state flammability standards. The standards required foam in consumer items to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds without igniting.

However, California lawmakers have since ordered updates and revised rules.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed TB117-2013, a new regulation that requires fabrics of upholstered furniture to withstand smolders, such as from lit cigarettes. The law is effective this year and will be mandatory by January 2015.

Governor Jerry Brown

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown passed a regulation that intends to decrease the use of flame-retardant chemicals in foam furniture.

“The new standard is not a ban on flame retardants, but manufacturers can meet it without using the chemicals,” said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a UC Berkeley visiting scholar in chemistry.

“Most upholstered fabrics, such as leather, are already smolder-proof. Consumers should verify that the furniture they are buying is free of flame retardants, especially when children will be exposed.”

Building Insulation Standards

California lawmakers are also taking a closer look at the use of flame retardants in building foam insulation.

AB 127 (Fire safety: fire retardants: building insulation) signed into law Oct. 5, 2013, directs California’s Fire Marshal and Building Standards Commission to reassess flammability regulations for building insulation.

A report on that standard is available here.


Tagged categories: Construction chemicals; Flame-retardant coatings; Health and safety; Insulation; Research

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