Babies, Children and Flame Retardant chemicals – The Risks

Should I be concerned about fire retardants in my child’s mattress? Yes.

Children are vulnerable to the toxic effects of these chemicals because their brain and other organs are still developing. Researchers have found that children have higher concentrations of flame retardants in their bodies than adults.

We know that exposure to flame retardants can negatively affect motor skills, learning, memory, and hearing in developing babies and young children. And research shows a link to increase aggressive behaviour in young children. The huge body of evidence, shows that flame retardants affect children in the following ways:

Adverse effects on foetal development  Endocrine and thyroid disruption
Neurologic functionReproductive toxicity
BehaviourImpacts to the immune system  
Adverse effects on child development Cancer 

How do these chemicals get into our children and babies?


Why are mattresses a problem? Fire retardant chemicals are skin permeable and are carried in the house by dust and air particles – a mattress acts like a bellows. There are kilos of these chemicals in standard cot mattress and children’s mattresses (especially if they are foam!). Children and babies spend a substantial amount of time each day in this toxic soup and children may breathe in ‘concerning’ levels of the chemicals when they sleep because their bodies are right next to the fabric which is back coated with these chemicals.

There are hundreds of different types of fire-retardant chemicals. The only way to keep your children safe from these is to buy a completely chemical-free product. But don’t be fooled. Companies can say they are chemical-free whilst still using these chemicals as they have to meet the UK fire regulations but have no obligation to tell you how they are meeting them. As these fire-retardant chemicals are considered a “Safety Matter” by the government, retailers and manufacturers are not required by law to disclose how they meet these regulations. If its foam – don’t buy it – as there is no way, it can be chemical free.

Want to do your own further research? Here’s a good place to start:

Please find below links to the most recent research into the effect of flame retardants on children’s health.

Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to reading problems. Jan 2020 children, the percentage of cognitive (mental skills) loss attributed to chemicals in flame retardants rose to 81% in 2015-2016, up from 67% in 2001-2002, the study found. 
Perinatal exposure to flame retardant alters epigenome, predisposing metabolic disease 
No escape. Tests find Toxic Fire Retardants in Mothers and even more in Toddlers
Kids exposed to flame retardant PBDE are at risk for lifelong liver or cardiovascular problems
Flame-retardant exposure increases anxiety, affects social behaviors in prairie vole 
Britons and their unborn children at risk due to government inaction over toxic chemicals in everyday use, MPs
Behaviour impacts on young chlldren
Prenatal Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Exposures and Neurodevelopment in U.S. Children through 5 Years of Age: The HOME Study 
Fire retardant chemicals linked to obesity in children and teens. 
Multiple exposures to organophosphate flame retardants alter urinary oxidative stress biomarkers among children: The Hokkaido Study. 

Recent UK articles:    (US article)

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