Pajamas – have you given much thought to what pajamas your kid wears? Other than whether they are Dora or Spiderman? What about the mattress they are sleeping on? Well, you should. A few years ago, I read that the flame retardant chemicals used in everything from children’s pajamas to mattresses to infant nursing pillows have been found to be endocrine disrupters. It upset me beyond words, and worries me to this day, particularly given that everyone in my family has an endocrine disorder (Congenital Hypothyroidism, Hashitmoto’s Thyroiditis, & Graves Disease).
What is an endocrine disrupter?
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”), “an endocrine disruptor is a synthetic chemical that when absorbed into the body either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functions.” The NRDC states that chemicals that are known to be human endocrine disruptors include “diethylstilbesterol (the drug DES), dioxin, PCBs, DDT, and some other pesticides”. There are other chemicals that are suspected endocrine disrupters because of animal testing, not officially designated as such yet. (Read the full article here: Endocrine Disrupters)
What are these chemicals and where are they lurking?
Sadly, it appears that they are still being used in pajamas. Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director for Healthy Child, Healthy World, wrote an article about this in October 2013. She noted that: “While flame retardant chemicals like chlorinated TRIS and PBDE have been phased out due to toxicity concerns, others remain, like tetrakis (hydroxymethyl) phosphonium chloride, a.k.a. ‘Proban’ or ‘Securest.’ This popular treatment has been linked to a variety of health effects including genetic changes, cancer promotion, and liver and nervous system damage.” (Reference Avoid Cold Weather Nightmares! Pick PJs Free of Flame Retardants and see also Are Flame Resistant Baby Pajamas Safe For Babies? ) Sounds like to me, most pajamas still aren’t safe for children, especially children with thyroid disorders or other health impairments.
Dangerous chemicals aren’t just in pajamas, though. According to a recent study done by researchers at NC State University and Duke University, “Firemaster 550 is made up of four principal component chemicals and is used in polyurethane foam in a wide variety of products, ranging from mattresses to infant nursing pillows.” (Reference Study: Flame Retardant “Firemaster 550” Is An Endocrine Disrupter)
It’s important to note all the places you can find the flame-retardant mixture known as “Firemaster 550” because it is an endocrine disrupter and caused extreme weight gain, early onset of puberty and cardiovascular health effects in lab animals. The scariest part, though: they exposed pregnant rats to the chemical and they found TBB (which is a component of the Firemaster 550) in the exposed rats and their offspring, indicating that the flame retardant is capable of crossing the placenta during pregnancy, reaching infants via breast milk, or both. Researchers also looked at thyroid hormone levels at the end of the nursing period. The rats given the higher dose of the flame retardant had much higher thyroid levels. Key quote from the article: “This is significant because thyroid hormones influence brain development during pregnancy, as well as a host of other biological functions, such as metabolism.” Additionally, high dosed females had difficulty regulating their glucose levels as adults and high dose males had thickened walls in the left ventricle of the heart. So, you are likely to find chemicals harmful to your health and your children’s health in many products inside your home and car, including nursing pillows, furniture (couches & upholstered chairs), mattresses, and car seats. As thyroid sufferers who already have impaired thyroid function, we can’t afford to ignore this information.
What can we do about it?
Do your best to educate yourself and eliminate these harmful chemicals from your home wherever and whenever possible.
At my house, we started with pajamas. We buy organic cotton pajamas and if we can’t find those, we try to be sure we are at least buying the pajamas with the bright yellow tag that says they are not treated with flame retardants. The tag usually reads: “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.” In addition to looking for pajamas with the yellow warning tag, Zissu suggests also looking for clothing that contains a label stating “not intended for use as sleepwear” as they are typically not treated with flame retardants. (Reference Avoid Cold Weather Nightmares! Pick PJs Free of Flame Retardants)
In addition to pajamas, as I’ve mentioned the chemicals are also present in car seats, pillows, mattresses and stuffed animals. Zissu wrote another article in May 2013 about polyurethane foam, which often is used for these items and contains flame retardant chemicals (like Firemaster 550). She acknowledges that we can’t avoid it in something as crucial as a car seat, but we can avoid it in pillows and mattresses by choosing items made of wool, cotton and latex. She recommends when trying to find alternative items made without polyurethane foam, to “rely on trustworthy third party certifications to guide them like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard), a new natural latex standard”. (Reference To Avoid Flame Retardants Avoid Polyurethane Foam)
If you are worried about exposure to endocrine disrupters, and want more advice about what to do, check out this list from the NRDC:
What can I do to reduce my risk of exposure?
- Educate yourself about endocrine disruptors, and educate your family and friends.
- Buy organic food whenever possible.
- Avoid using pesticides in your home or yard, or on your pet — use baits or traps instead, keepin your home especially clean to prevent ant or roach infestations.
- Find out if pesticides are used in your child’s school or day care center and campaign for non-toxic alternatives.
- Avoid fatty foods such as cheese and meat whenever possible.
- If you eat fish from lakes, rivers, or bays, check with your state to see if they are contaminated.
- Avoid heating food in plastic containers, or storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap.
- Do not give young children soft plastic teethers or toys, since these leach potential endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Support efforts to get strong government regulation of and increased research on endocrine disrupting chemicals. (Reference Endocrine Disrupters)
As the mother of children with congenital hypothyroidism, the wife of a Graves Disease survivor, and as a person living with Hashimoto’s and Sjogrens Syndrome, this in an area of great concern to me. There is so much information out there, and much of it conflicting. I’m not an expert, just a worried wife & mom. I’m sharing with you what I have learned so far, and hope that you will do the same with me. Together, we can share and learn.
By Blythe Clifford aka Thyroid Mom