Safe Kids Campaign

Killer Cribs: Protecting Infants and Children from Toxic Exposure

Killer CribsFriends of the Earth has found that commonly used baby and children's products and upholstered household furniture contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals called halogenated fire retardants.

The study finds that these toxic chemicals appear in a high percentage of portable cribs, strollers, car seats and infant carriers. Due to their prevalence in common household products, these chemicals have been found in breast milk and in children. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of these chemicals as they impact development at critical stages of growth.

Learn More about Killer Cribs | Press Release | CBS News: Is Fire Retardant A Harmful Toxin?

Friends of the Earth Releases "Killer Couch" Report

Virtually every American tested found to have retardants in bodies; babies and children found to have highest levels

Killer CouchAccording to a study released by Friends of the Earth, a high percentage of California furniture contains toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and reproductive and neurological dysfunction. These toxins are particularly dangerous to infants and children.

Friends of the Earth tested a sample of 350 pieces of household furniture in stores and domestic residences and found that most of the furniture had high levels of toxic halogenated fire retardants. This analysis suggests that product contamination is widespread in California, exposing the state's population to a significant and unnecessary risk.

See the Killer Couch Video | CBS News on our Report | Read the Press Release | Download the Report

Campaign Background

The Safe Kids campaign protects public and environmental health by working towards the immediate phase-out of highly toxic chemicals called halogenated fire retardants.* These chemicals are widely used in our everyday home furnishings, baby products such as strollers and car seats, carpets, drapes, fabrics and clothing. Yet halogenated fire retardants have been documented in hundreds of peer-reviewed studies to cause serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive, developmental and neurological disorders including birth defects, learning disorders, mental retardation, hyperactivity and ADHD. These chemicals disproportionately impact young children, who are particularly likely to absorb these compounds through direct physical or oral contact with them in strollers, car seats and furniture. Young children also ingest these substances from their mothers’ milk. Levels of halogenated fire retardants in breast milk have increased forty-fold since the 1970s, meaning they bioaccumulate and are then passed onto our young at critical developmental stages.

Legislative Work

In response to this public health threat, the Safe Kids Campaign has been working vigorously on the legislative front, building ties with legislators and educating citizens about these dangerous chemicals. In 2007, FOE became the original sponsor of California Assemblyman Mark Leno’s AB706, the Crystal Golden-Jefferson Furniture Safety and Fire Prevention Act, adding MOMS (Making Our Milk Safe) as a co-sponsor, and also enlisting significant assistance from (founded by co-founder Joan Blades). AB706 mandates the immediate phase-out of halogenated fire retardants in all upholstered furniture and baby products covered by California’s flammability standard, Technical Bulletin (TB 117). AB706 promotes the use of safer, less toxic fire retardant methods such as internal fire resistant barriers, fire resistant upholstery fibers, boric acid, melamine and phosphate based chemicals.

Regulatory Work

On the regulatory front, we are continuing to work on the federal level, applying pressure to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to establish a national flammability standard for furniture that discourages the use of toxic flame retardants. So far, CPSC has responded to our efforts and is in the process of moving towards the standard that we favor—a big victory!

We are also working to defeat an international standard moving through the International Electrotechnical Commission standard (62368, section 7), which, if passed, will require that the external plastic casings of the vast majority of electronics sold worldwide be resistant to ignition from a candle flame. This standard will likely be met through the use of massive amounts of halogenated fire retardants.

This standard is five years in the making and was developed through a largely secretive process, without public knowledge or scrutiny. We have since learned that the standard is being pushed by the chemical industry to expand their markets and is largely unnecessary. The fire data doesn’t support the need for it. In 2002, the U.S. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) concluded that the problem of candles fires in electronics does not pose a level of risk that should be considered a safety policy priority. This conclusion has been further validated in another NFPA study in 2007.

If section 7 of IEC 62368 passes, billions of pounds of toxic fire retardant chemicals will likely be used to meet it annually. It will also make it very difficult to safely recycle electronics in a cost-effective manner. We are working hard to influence the U.S. vote on this standard, while also building an international coalition.

* For the sake of simplicity, we refer to brominated and chlorinated fire retardants (BFRs and CFRs) as halogenated fire retardants. This is inclusive also of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a sub-class of BFRs. Technically, the term halogenated includes other compounds such as fluorine and iodine.