A report released last week by a coalition of environmental and public health groups found that many children’s nap mats used in daycare centers and preschools contain hazardous chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems.
The report, Naptime Nightmares?, looked at 24 nap mats purchased at major retailers such as Target and Babies R Us in seven states, including Massachusetts. Vermont and Connecticut. The mats were tested by Heather Stapleton, a Duke University researcher and expert on flame retardants, who found that while only 11 of the mats were labeled as flame resistant, 22 of them contained at least one flame-retardant chemical. Nineteen of the mats contained more than one flame retardant.
Mounting scientific research warns of the health risks posed by those chemicals. “The flame retardant chemicals found in the nap mats, which are used in daycares nationwide, have been linked to cancer, genetic damage, impacts on fertility and reproductive health, allergies, hormone disruption, and other serious health problems,” the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow and the Center for Environmental Health, the groups behind the study, said in an announcement of its findings.
Eighteen of the mats tested contained triphenyl phosphate, or TPP, which has been linked to reproductive and neurological problems in animal studies. Nine contained TDCPP, or chlorinated Tris, a known carcinogen that was actually banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission from use in kids’ pajamas in 1977 but still shows up in many consumer products.
Last year, the Chicago Tribune ran an investigative series that criticized the chemical industry for pushing the use of dangerous flame-retardant chemicals in consumer products—chemicals that CPSC tests found failed to “provide any significant protection” when used in foam in products such as furniture. The series prompted considerable backlash against use of the chemicals, including a Senate hearing. Last week, following the release of the nap-mat report, a group of 23 senators, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and acting Sen. Mo Cowan, called on the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the health effects and effectiveness of flame retardants.
On the state level, Massachusetts legislators have filed “An Act for Health Families and Businesses,” which would address the use of harmful chemicals in consumer products on a broader level. The bill calls for a system to evaluate the safety of individual chemicals and find safer alternatives for harmful ones where feasible. The program would be paid for by a fee imposed on manufacturers and would provide technical and financial assistance to help companies make the switch.
This is the sixth time the proposal has been filed in the Legislature, noted Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts state director of Clean Water Action, a member of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow. (See “Legislating Toxicity,” July 9, 2009) During the last legislative session, the bill received a favorable report from the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture but died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The new version of the bill, Saunders noted, tightens its focus on consumer products, as opposed to industrial chemical use.
Saunders expects the new bill, like previous iterations, will meet with industry resistance, although she’s encouraged by the number of legislators who’ve signed on as co-sponsors. That list includes, from the Valley, Reps. Denise Andrews (D-Orange), Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow), Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), John Scibak (D-South Hadley), Ellen Story (D-Amherst), Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield) and Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke), and Sens. Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and Jim Welch (D-West Springfield).•