Q&A: Chemical Flame Retardants?

  • December 19, 2012 9:43 am

Question:

Alexandra,

I recently sent an email to members of my family as they shop for holiday and baby gifts, including fleece footed pjs. I’m sending part of it to you below. There has been some backlash. Was this overkill? I did ask them to try not to take it personally. I just don’t want to expose the baby to harm.

Here is some info on flame retardants that I think important to share. When thinking about buying gifts, please keep in mind that if there is a label on the product that indicates that it is in accordance with California state regulation 117, or is made with any type of foam in conjunction with the product not being labeled as organic, or is labeled as “flame retardant,” please think twice before buying it.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Sarah

Answer:

Dear Sarah,

This is a real concern. The overkill part largely depends on your family.

There are flame retardants basically in all foam products (they’re made from petroleum and so are very flammable), even fleece pajamas. It is good common sense not to go out of your way to purchase and place unneeded foam around your baby, though it is unavoidable in things like car seats. It’s of course more important to have a car seat than to minimize exposure to flame retardants in foam, in terms of risk factor.

Flame retardants are in such wide use that these things are found in the blood/bodies of almost all Americans, which is why it’s a good idea to expose yourself to less of them if and when you can, especially since at the moment they’re almost impossible to avoid in couches and other upholstered furniture (though there are some indications this may get better soon). So it’s easier said than done to avoid entirely, but you can minimize. They’re in this computer I’m typing on, too, by the way.
How you speak to your own family is largely an issue of personality and pre-established relationships. I have ways of addressing these issues individually with the various members of my own family. I do know that feelings get hurt when anyone rejects a well-intentioned present. And tempers flare when gift givers are told what they bought or what they want to buy is toxic. It’s an odd thing. At this point my own family members are very careful about what they buy for us and our daughter. I know it’s a burden for them. Some let me know this more than others. Some just do what they want. I have smiled and thanked countless people, then returned or exchanged my fair share of foam-filled things and fleece everything over the years. No one noticed (that I know of), and no hard feelings. Just saying.
If you’re looking for some good reading to share, The Chicago Tribune has been working on a great investigative series on flame retardants this year. Well worth emailing around and then it’s the reporters doing the lecturing, not you. Which is a good thing.
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Recycling Baby Items?

  • September 19, 2012 9:08 am
Question:
Alexandra,
I attended a Montclare seminar in April on Greening and I was wondering if you had any suggestions where locally one can recycle breast pumps and children car seats as well as strollers.  I found this website that recycles old car seats, strollers, etc.  But you have to mail your items to Texas.  I was hoping there was something more local.  One thought perhaps Montclare can sponsor a green drive for used baby / toddler goods like high chairs, strollers etc.  Though we would need to find a place to recycle it all or do a bulk ship to Texas.
Anyway, if you have any suggestions, I appreciate it.  Many thanks.
- Karen
Answer:
Hi Karen,
Thanks for reaching out. You’ve hit on a frustrating situation. I share your frustration. There are definitely places to recycle items such as those, but it requires work on your part to do the right thing. Unfortunately, Goodwill does not accept any of these items (anymore), but anyone should technically be able to find a local organization that accepts car seats and strollers. Baby Buggy, for example, is local here in New York City, and it accepts both strollers and car seats–but only if the car seats have never been used (!).  Little Essentials also accepts both strollers and car seats.
Recycling breast pumps is a little trickier, to say the least. You can’t donate breast pumps as they really should not be shared from one mother to another; breast milk is a bodily fluid and can contain the sort of things any bodily fluid can contain that aren’t exactly the sort of thing you’d like to share (HIV, hepatitis, etc.)–especially with your infant. My understanding, which I wrote about in The Complete Organic Pregnancy,  is that milk can get backed up into the parts of individual home pumps (industrial pumps have mechanisms that block this from happening and that’s why they’re safe to share). The FDA calls them single use products. I asked my intern Kelley to call Medela, a well known single use pump manufacturer, to ask them what they suggest parents do with breast pumps that are past their useful life or are no longer needed. She got the runaround and wound up calling four times! Basically all of the customer service people told her to just throw them out. Sad but true. She asked if they could be recycled and was told that some parts might be recyclable. The only way to find this out, of course, is to check with local municipalities to find out. So you’d have to look and see what number plastic it is and then call 311 here in New York to see if there is a place that takes oddly shaped plastic parts made out of that kind of plastic. It’s not my understanding that these can go in regular NYC plastic recycling bins. It would be a special drop off situation, if anything at all.

I don’t like this response anymore than you like reading it. A while back a group of consumers petitioned Brita to make their water filters recyclable. I think it is high time someone–you?–starts a petition asking breast pump manufacturers to do the same. It should not be this hard to not add tons of breast pumps to the landfill.

Best,
Alexandra