Study: Nap mats in child-care centers in Seattle contain toxic chemicals

Toddlers in child-care centers in Seattle may be at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. This is because a study found toxic chemicals in some nap mats in child-care centers in Seattle.

In a small pilot study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, seven child-care centers in neighborhoods from the University District and Wallingford, to South Seattle and the Central District were included. The researchers aimed to determine if replacing nap mats with flame retardants with mats without the chemicals would change the levels of flame retardants in the air and dust. They analyzed the mats and collected dust and air samples in the day-care centers. Then, they also replaced the older mats and repeated the dust and air sampling after three months.

The researchers found that six out of the seven child-care centers had nap mats that contained potentially harmful flame retardants. Although estimated exposures to children were generally below existing safety thresholds, exposures to several chemicals were greater. Moreover, there is also not much data on many of the compounds found and their health effects that the so-called “safe” levels may not be trustworthy. Since there little is known about the chemicals’ toxic effects, people should be careful about any exposures to these chemicals.

The researchers discovered that replacing older mats with new, greener versions reduced exposures significantly by decreasing chemicals in dust. The flame-retardant levels in dust dramatically decreased between 42 and 90 percent.

“This study shows that, clearly, we can reduce kids’ exposures to these chemicals linked to serious health problems by taking them out of the products,” said Erika Schreder, science director of Toxic-free Future, a Seattle-based advocacy group and a co-author of the study.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is set to cooperate with Schreder’s organization and other child-care centers, including in-home operations, to determine how many use older mats and what it would take to replace them.

There is an increasing body of research that suggests that flame-retardant chemicals can cause a lot of health problems, such as obesity, cancer, and hormone disruption, according to Amina Salamova, of Indiana University and co-author of the study. (Related: Fire retardant chemicals used in your mattress linked to 74% rise in thyroid cancer tumors.)

Although many companies have been manufacturing retardant-free products, such as nap mats, since California changed its flammability standards in 2013, many older mats are still in use. Thus, older mats are more likely to contain flame-retardant chemicals compared to mats purchased after 2013. Schreder suggested that concerned parents should talk to their child-care providers about the facilities’ nap mats. Salamova also advised parents to take a look at the ventilation and use of pesticides at their children’s daycare and ensure their children wash their hands often.

Reducing exposures to toxic flame retardants in children

Flame retardants can also be found in other children’s products, such as changing pads and foam furniture like chairs and couches. Thus, better choose products that are free of such chemicals. You can also reduce children’s exposure to flame retardants by making sure that they wash hands frequently, especially before eating; regularly damp dusting of all surfaces, such as bookshelves and toy storage areas; and providing good ventilation with outdoor air when possible.

Read more news stories and studies on toxic chemicals in various products by going to

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