Can Wearing Fire-Retardant Pajamas Affect Your Child’s Health?

Fire retardants linked to health and cognitive issues
The Pros and Cons of Flame-retardant Pjs

Buying pajamas made of fire-retardant fabric for your child may sound like a good idea until you consider the chemicals added to the fabric to make it fire-retardant.

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Like most things involving chemical exposure, there’s a risk that comes along with putting fire-retardant fabric, or other chemically treated products, against your child’s skin.

Fire retardants linked to health and cognitive issues

study published in August 2014 found that PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), the most commonly used fire-retardant chemicals, were linked to numerous health problems.

Researchers found the chemicals were to blame for:

  • thyroid disruption
  • early onset of puberty
  • cognitive problems
  • delayed mental and physical development

“The chemicals used to make pajamas and other consumer products flame-retardant show up in water, wildlife, and human breast milk,” says pediatrician Michael Macknin, MD.

According to Dr. Macknin, the chemicals in fire retardants do diminish the flammability of products treated with them and have been associated with decreased burn injuries in children. However, the chemicals aren’t well-bound to the fabric fibers at times and can leech out. This allows the fire-retardant chemicals to float free in the environment.

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“The long-term impact these chemicals may have on health and cognition is not closely scrutinized,” says Dr. Macknin. “They are often put on the market without long-term studies of their safety.”

Other dangers besides pajamas

These chemicals are found in furniture and mattresses as well as cell phones, television remotes and numerous other consumer plastics, says Dr. Macknin.

“If the tag on a sofa or mattress you’re planning to buy says, ‘this article complies with flammability requirements of California Bureau of Home Furnishings Technical Bulletin 117’, or language to that effect, it likely contains pounds of PBDEs,” he says.

You’ll find this sort of notice on numerous children’s products like car seats, strollers, toys and changing mats. According to Dr. Macknin and other health experts, these added chemicals may put your child at a greater risk than the flames they claim to inhibit.

An alternative to chemically treated flame-retardant pajamas are close-fitting pajamas made of natural fibers.  Some fabrics meet smolder standards without added chemicals.

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Check the tags and labels and consider the possible risks when purchasing clothing and other items, such as furniture, that comply with California TB 117 flame-retardant regulations, says Dr. Macknin.

Preventing a fire is your safest bet

The best way to protect your kids is to prevent a fire in the first place. These tips can help:

  • Ensure your fire alarms have fresh batteries and are in good working order.
  • Have your furnace and water heater inspected each year.
  • Teach your children about fire safety.
  • Keep all matches and lighters well out of children’s reach.
  • Don’t smoke inside your home.
  • If you use candles, put them out before bed and before leaving your home.
  • Unplug Christmas or electric holiday decorations before bed and before leaving your home.

These common-sense fire safety tips make more sense than exposing your children to potentially harmful chemicals embedded in fire-retardant clothing and products, Dr. Macknin says.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as the parent to decide if the risk of exposure to potentially harmful chemicals outweighs the risks of fire and burns. Of course, fire prevention still represents the best way to protect yourself and your children.

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