OAKLAND -- High levels of a potentially cancer-causing flame retardant have been found in products for babies and young children, an environmental group said Thursday as it announced legal action against the retailers and manufacturers.
The findings by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health are expected to add fuel to the campaign to revamp California's flammability standards.
"Children are vulnerable to chemical exposures at a different level because their bodies are still growing and developing," said Michael Green, executive director of the center.
"You don't need these chemicals to make children's products safe."
The center sent product samples to an independent laboratory and said it identified 16 baby items, plus four other products, with levels of chlorinated Tris that exceeded state safety standards.
Tris was banned from children's pajamas in 1977, and last year, the state added it to a list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
The center argues that animal and human studies have also linked Tris to hormone disruption and developmental problems.
The tested items included crib mattresses, sleepers, diaper-changing pads and nap mats. They were purchased from major retailers such as Walmart, Target and Babies R Us.
On Thursday, the environmental group sent notices accusing the companies of failing to provide warning notices that it says are required by a California consumer protection law,Proposition 65.
The law requires warning notices whenever the amount of Tris exceeds the level believed to cause 10 additional cancer cases per million people exposed to the product, the group said.
The president of the California Retailers Association declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the documents.
The American Chemistry Council noted that Tris and other such chemicals comply with numerous consumer safety and product liability laws.
"Our companies develop flame retardants to help manufacturers meet important fire safety standards," the council said.
Tris and other flame retardants have been in wide use since California passed a 1975 law requiring that foam in furniture and many children's items be able to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds without igniting.
That led to changes across the nation as many product manufacturers adopted the strict California standards for all of their products.
But in recent years, a growing number of health experts and environmental groups have raised concerns about the pervasiveness of the chemicals.
In June, Gov. Jerry Brown directed a state agency to revise the fire safety test, known as Technical Bulletin 117, after noting
Judy Levin, right, pollution prevention co-director for the Center for Environmental Health, talks about her agency's investigation into consumer products that contain the toxic fire retardant called chlorinated TRIS, at a press conference Dec. 6, 2012 in Oakland, Calif. (D. ROSS CAMERON)that studies have found high levels of toxic flame retardants in the breast tissue of California women, and that the state's toddlers often have three times the level of such chemicals in their bodies as their parents.
A change is expected by next summer.
Last week, researchers in two major studies announced they found potentially hazardous flame retardants in many couches and in dust taken from Northern California homes.
Dust in particular can be a problem because children often put things in their mouths, said Caroline Cox, research director for the center.
Kathryn Alcantar noted that her 7-month-old daughter, Anais Gonzales, crawled across the floor Thursday morning to reach her favorite toy.
"She may have gathered toxic dust and put this in her mouth," said Alcantar, the policy director for the center. "As a mother, this is something I'm concerned about. It's almost immoral for them to continue to use these products."
Because most baby products don't list ingredients, it is difficult for parents to know whether they contain flame retardants.
Cox suggested that parents avoid products with polyurethane foam, which often contains flame retardants, and instead choose items with polyester fiber fill or cotton or wool.
The center maintains that flame retardant chemicals are not necessary to protect children from fire dangers.
Instead of requiring that the interior foam of products meet flammability standards, the regulations should be revised to apply only to the cover fabrics, said Judy Levin, the center's pollution prevention co-director. She argued that if the cover withstands flames, the interior will not catch fire.