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Question from Maggie

Hi Debra,

I just noticed the materials in my son’s plush Elmo that he sleeps with. Should I be concerned? They consist of “polyester fibers, polyethylene beads, polyethylene stiffener, polyurethane foam.”

Debra’s Answer

I’m not so concerned about polyester fibers, polyethylene beads, and polyethylene stiffener, but I am concerned about polyurethane foam.

Polyurethane foam is extremely flammable, which is why products like upholstered furniture and mattresses have in the past contained chemical flame retardants. But polyurethane foam in children’s toys is just as flammable.

A 2011 study in Environmental Science & Technology “Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products” says, “PBDEs have also recently been identified in children’s toys…It is less well-known that some baby products are considered juvenile furniture and that the polyurethane foam used in baby products must also comply with TB117. However, the extent of baby product compliance with TB117 and whether or not the types of chemicals added to the polyurethane foam are similar to those in nonjuvenile furniture is unknown. Flame retardant additives can escape from products over time, accumulate in dust, and are a primary route of exposure to humans.10 13 Exposure to children is a particular concern due to their frequent hand to mouth behavior and higher contact with floors. Exposure to chemical additives in baby products is of even greater concern for infants, who are in intimate contact with these products for long periods of time, at very critical stages of their development.”

I would conclude that the likelihood that fire retardants are in this toy is high and the dangers of these possible fire retardants are also high. I always follow “better safe than sorry” and choose to not use products where the presence of chemicals such as fire retardants may be present.

Browse the Toys page on Debra’s List for companies that make and sell stuffed toys that do not contain flame retardants.

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