I believe that one example of government regulation making things worse (not better) was the decision in the 1970s (by the entity which turned into Consumer Product Safety Commission) that loose fitting infant and child PJs must be treated or made with flame retardant material. This decision was made after several little ones died in house fires and or fires in which their PJs caught on fire. And, the decision was initially made before fire alarms and sprinkler systems (in apartments) were common place and often even part of the building code, nevertheless fires scare us, so the rules have become more detailed and received increased enforcement over the years.
Accidents do happen, but frankly I would prefer to dress my son in Flame Retardant FREE PJs and keep a functioning smoke/fire alarm right outside his bedroom door. Our house is well maintained, we dont smoke or use candles (except the occasional candle with dinner) and we dont store excess fuel in the garage. So barring an odd electrical fire or an errant lightening strike I would not consider our home to have a high fire risk. In addition to working smoke alarms, we also keep a CO2 and gas detector, which is insanely effective at waking one up at 3 am (inevitably the batteries run out in the middle of the night).
For years there has been concern over the human body’s ability to absorb the chemicals in fire retardant fabrics and this is why in many cases it is no longer used. In fact the only commonly used flame retardant in the US today, is the ubiquitous PBDE found in infant pajamas, mattresses, car seats and more. I mentioned in my brief post yesterday that the Environmental Working Group will be releasing a study that shares results regarding how mothers and toddlers absorb the chemicals in the PBDE flame retardant used in foam mattresses and other consumer products. (Here is an article on Falcons and PBDE absorption, which indicates flame retardants might be bad for animals and the environment, not just humans!)
In the meantime, if you are concerned about your kiddos PJs read this article over at the Green Guide (National Geographic) that discusses the history behind the issue. Bottom line is that most PJs made of synthetic fabrics (which tend to be highly flammable) will be treated with flame retardant or made with fabric woven from thread that has been treated. Only tight fitting cotton PJs tend to be fire retardant free and in most cases you can be confident that your organic PJs are also flame retardant free.
From the Green Guide:
Your choices, then, from worst to best are 1) nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants, 2) inherently flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or 3) snug-fitting cotton garments. The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant label. These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear.
Occasionally, you may find looser fitting Organic PJs that are not marketed as PJs, but perhaps as buntings or footies or what not that are not treated either. Hanna Anderson used to sell PJs in that way a few years back (but I was told not confirmed truth or fiction) that they had to stop selling them because the CPSC tagged them as PJs. Now, you will only find tight fitting organic PJs at Hanna Anderson.
What about my babys mattress and sheets?
One more reason to go organic or by a natural latex mattress or organic mattress pad is that most crib (and adult) mattresses are also fire retardant. If you’d like to read Consumer Product Safety Commissions proposals and rules regarding mattresses here are a few links to various standards and proposed standards for mattresses: 16 CFR 1633; 16 CFR Part 1632 (this standard effective of July 1, 2007 is crazy even thought I dont smoke the CPSC thinks that it is only safe to sell me a mattress that will not burn when confronted with 18 lighted cigarettes! Now this rule may be good for those who live in apartment buildings with smokers, but for those of us who live in stand alone homes that is outrageous!)
Here is another link to search any CPSC Product Safety Standard that you may be curious to learn more about. Also, if you have a specific product that you are concerned about your best bet is to contact the company directly and get a straight answer from them regarding the make up of the PJs, mattress or mattress pad.
Green Mes Opinion:
This issue is particularly irksome to Green Me given the current political climate and situation. Here I am as a Democrat who according to the GOP believes in heavy handed government intervention in our daily lives. And yet, I can not stand the idea that the government regulates the addition of chemicals to my household products as a protective measure in case some one out there is stupid or careless. Folks (mostly Republicans and Libertarians from what I can tell) do not want to pay taxes to give someone elses children a solid education or to provide someone elses grandmother, mother or child with adequate health care. And yet, at the RNC or on CSPAN I never once hear any of these folks crying foul at the government standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission that require toxic chemicals to be added to our household goods specifically our childrens pajamas and or every-ones mattress, because it might prevent a few tragic accidents.
In the US fires are the the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2005) a fact that initially makes fire retardant mattresses and PJs sound necessary, until you read the next statistic that says Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns (Hall 2001). Furthermore Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths (Ahrens 2003) and Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires (Ahrens 2003). So, if you dont smoke or live in a building with smokers and you have effective (and functioning) smoke alarms in your home the likelihood that your mattress or PJs need to be coated with fire retardant any more than you everyday clothes or other materials goods is not a solid argument! *
When it comes down to it what is a better investment of our tax and private dollars? Is a dollar spent providing preventive health care more effective at saving lives and saving society money than a dollar spent researching and testing the most effective flame retardant mattresses? Fire deaths are horrific, shocking and frustrating, because in many cases they appear to have been preventable. Deaths, disorders, environmental destruction from chemicals, such as PBDE fire retardants are slow acting, difficult to pin-point and seen by some as a necessary evil. And, yet in the long run I wonder if the use of PBDEs will cause more damage and destruction than it will have saved lives? Frankly, Id prefer to live with out the addition of PBDEs, BPA and other avoidable endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and God knows what else!
*CDC, Fire Deaths and Injuries. Fact Sheets August 08, 2008 1. 6 Sep 2008 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/fire.htm>.