Karen Revels doesn’t think she’s done anything all that dramatic.
“I have gotten rid of all of my children’s flame-retardant pajamas,” she says.
That’s it. Flat out. Revels will not put her kids to sleep in pajamas treated with flame retardants. The chemicals used to resist flames, she claims, are just too toxic.
“They’re sleeping in chemicals. They’re breathing them.”
She worries the chemicals also leach into skin. And she’s not worried about what other parents might think of her decision.
“The chances of my house burning down at night are far less than the chances of them getting cancer or some other kind of disease by breathing chemicals,” she insists.
Revels says her pediatrician supports her decision. In fact, others in the medical community do too.
“It’s not clear flame-retardant pajamas save lives,” says Dr. Josef Thandiyil, a medical toxicologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
Thandiyil says chemical exposure is a real concern, even with the newest flame retardant called PROBAN, which is made from the chemical tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chloride (THPC).
“There have been links to liver injury promoting cancer growth and other health effect that everybody should understandably be concerned about or look out for,” the doctor says.
There’s been controversy about flame retardants in pajamas since the 1970s when a chemical, chlorinated tris, was removed from the market because of its links to cancer. The chemical, however, is still used in many children’s products today, like strollers, car seats, and nursing pillows. Trade and lobbying groups representing chemical companies have long argued that flame retardants are safe, not only in pajamas, but in household furniture and other products that consumers use regularly.
However, Dr. Thandiyil says there are studies showing children in the U.S. have levels of flame retardants in their blood that are up to seven times higher than children in other countries. The doctor says it might be decades before we know the true effects of the chemicals on the market today, so he suggests parents make their decisions by weighing the benefits.
“It’s not clear the benefit offered by flame-retardant pajamas is as important as maybe having a good working fire alarm,” he says. “The building codes that exist, even the rapid response time by firefighters have probably made a bigger difference in saving lives than do fire retardant pajamas.”
Dr. Thandiyil and other experts recommend tight-fitting cotton pajamas because there’s less loose fabric to catch a flame. Polyester PJs are considered both flame-resistant and chemically safe. Parents who aren’t sure about the chemicals in their children’s pajamas can try an online search using the label information or call the manufacturer directly and ask about chemical content.