This factsheet was originally an email, the third in a series of twelve for child care providers in New York State that have been trained on EcoHealthy Child Care (R) and toxic chemical reduction and elimination strategies by Clean and Healthy New York. We hope you find them helpful and they inspire to you keep taking steps to reduce the hidden toxic chemicals in your setting.


Flame Retardants


What's the problem?


Flame retardants are chemicals added to fabric (textiles), padding (primarily polyurethane foam), and plastics to reducethe start or spread of a fire. They are made with organohalogens (often bromine and chlorine), organophosphates, and nitrogen. Extensive research on a number of halogenated flame retardants shows that these chemicals can contribute to cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, and infertility. One set of living room furniture can contain two pounds of flame retardant chemicals.


Research has found that the chemical leave furniture, electronics and fabrics, contaminating house dust. Most people carry flame retardants in their bodies, and young children have been found to have up to 15 times the amount of the chemicals than their mothers. (1) Many flame retardants build up in animals, concentrating as they move up the food chain, and can be carried vast distances: flame retardants are found in polar bears and other arctic animals.(2)


The good news is that changes in California’s fire code has been changed to maintain fire safety but is now can be met without chemical additives in padded furniture. The bad news is while many companies have stopped using flame retardant chemicals, some companies have not taken the step to source flame retardant-free materials.


Spot it: Where can flame retardants be found?


  • In the nursery: foam products like crib wedges, bassinet mattresses, changing pads, nap mats, infant carriers, high chairs and strollers.

  • In the living room: sofas and padded chairs (both foam and textiles can contain it), televisions and other electronics (plastic housing, and circuit board).

  • Underfoot: in recycled-content foam carpet padding.

  • In the walls: many kinds of insulation.

  • Commercial curtains. This doesn't apply if you operate home-based programs.


What can I do?


  1. Ask retailers or manufacturers to verify that a product you’re purchasing is flame retardant-free. Many crib mattress, nap mat, sofas and other manufacturers now make products without these harmful chemicals.

  2. Keep electronics out of spaces used by young children. This primarily means computers and televisions, but also includes hand-held devices. (One more reason to reduce or eliminate screen time!)

  3. Avoid wall-to-wall carpet, and if you choose carpet padding, avoid recycled-content materials.

  4. Choose window shades that don’t require a flame retardant treatments – ideally wooden shades/shutters to avoid PVC (which can contain lead and phthalates, subjects of previous tips). Home-based child care providers don’t have to meet commercial flammability standards, and could use cloth without treating it.

Learn more


Clean and Healthy New York's reports on flame retardants in products:

Green Science Policy Institute


Mt. Sinai School of Medicine operates the Children's Environmental Health Center of Excellence, conducting research into environmental causes of childhood disease. They also provide free consultation for parents who have questions about environmental exposures. To contact the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-866-265-6201 or



  1. "California Policy Linked to Higher Flame Retardant Exposures," a new report from Environmental Working Group and Duke University.

  2. "Chemical fire retardants found in Arctic reindeer dung" Alaska Dispatch News, December 2015.

NYSP2I is dedicated to helping NYS residents and businesses find implementable and cost-effective sustainability solutions.

Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or Department of Environmental Conservation.

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