We have all seen this language on the tags of our couches, our mattresses, or our pillows and probably giggled about it at some point. Why in the world would people be worried about what’s on the tag? When it comes to your baby stuff, there is at least one good reason to be concerned about what’s on that tag. That reason is California Technical Bulletin 117. To the lay person, this sounds like gobbledy-gook semantics. When you start looking into CA TB 117, the language becomes much more sinister. Bear with me here; this is an important post if you have or will soon have baby stuff in your home.
The State of California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation issued TB 117 in March of 2000. If you’d like to read it (it’s not a fun or easy read, but it is only 8 pages), you can find it here. To try and simplify it, “home furnishings” sold in the State of California must pass a flame resistant test. This almost always means that chemical flame retardants are added to the inside fillers or outside coverings of home furnishings that are able to be sold in the state of California. Flame retardant use became widespread in the 70’s when smoking was at an all-time high in the United States and dropped cigarettes were responsible for a large number of house fires. At this time, manufacturers of baby pajamas began coating them in flame retardant chemicals. After an outcry from the public, this practice was mostly discontinued in the 80’s. The use of flame retardants plateaued until… California TB 117.
Because California is such a large market, “home furnishings” manufacturers decided that it was worth it to comply with California rules. You’ll notice that I keep putting “home furnishings” in quotation marks. Why? Because the definition is very liberal. While you’re probably not surprised that your nursery glider and your couch qualify as home furnishings, did you know that your nursing pillow does as well? Your baby activity mat? Your baby play gym?
But isn’t flame retardant good? Doesn’t it keep my baby safe? Nope. In addition to the toxic, cancer-causing, reproductive system-hindering chemicals that make up the flame retardant formula, there is NO PROOF that these flame retardants work. Several sources (one can be found here, and here) have concluded that even materials treated with flame retardants catch on fire just as quickly and burn just as easily as those that are not treated.
Won’t flame retardants off-gas quickly and become a non-issue as the product gets older? Nope. In fact, materials treated with flame retardants become MORE dangerous over time as the dust flakes off of the materials and you breathe it in.
Now, I’m not saying that everything you have for your baby is doused in a flame retardant. Some companies found a natural way to meet CA TB 117 (Boppy is one of those companies) and used different materials that are naturally flame resistant. Other companies have refused to cater to California. That said, if you’re shopping at a large box store (and I’m guilty too), READ that tag! If it says anything about meeting CA TB 117 standards, either run away and get another product or double check with the company that manufactures that product to ensure that the fire resistant qualities are a natural part of the fiber.