There is a long history behind flame retardants and pajamas. In 1953, the Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA) was passed to regulate highly flammable fabrics such as children’s pajamas after several incidences of various textiles used in children's pajamas in the 1940s that resulted in tragic deaths. This act was amended by 1967 to include upholstery, carpets, and certain textiles. This essentially required the textiles used to pass flammability standards. This often meant that flame retardants were added to the textiles to make them less flammable.
In the 1970s, brominated and chlorinated flame retardants used in these textiles were identified as mutagenic to DNA and carcinogenic. These were replaced with newer brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. These newer options have been found to persist and accumulate in the environment, house dust, and in people and wildlife. There is data that is accumulating showing that these compounds can also be carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic, and endocrine-disrupting.
The FFA is still in effect. Children’s pajamas for ages 9 months to 14 years of age must be made of flame-resistant fabrics if they fit loosely.
There are two ways to avoid pajamas made of textiles treated with flame retardants.
One way to bypass the need to use these flame retardants is to ensure the fit is snug to avoid excess fabric placing the garment at higher risk for flammability. This prevents loose hanging fabric at risk for exposure to flames as well as reduces the oxygen build-up between the skin and the fabric to reduce the overall flammability. Remember, these laws were passed at a time when smoke detectors and other fire safety measures were not widely available. In order to determine if your child’s pajamas contain these flame retardants look for a yellow label that reads as follows: “For child’s safety, garments should fit snugly. These garments are not flame-resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.”
Another method to avoid flame retardants is for pajamas to be made of 100% polyester. Polyester is inherently flame-resistant. The tags on these garments will state “flame resistant”.
Although these endocrine and mutagenic flame retardants could potentially still be found in some pajamas, they are rarely used by manufacturers as many have opted to ensure a snug fit or use polyester.
As to whether these chemicals from pajamas can be contributing to the incidence of juvenile diabetes, although possible theoretically if a parent is choosing pajamas that have not avoided it, the likelier exposure to flame retardants, if they are indeed linked to juvenile diabetes, is through upholstery and the environment given the widespread use of the products.
This is more of a reminder that the story of chemicals and textiles is evolving. It took over 20 years for the chemicals used as flame retardants to be identified as mutagenic, carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting. This means that an entire generation wore these garments routinely with unclear impact on their health and the environment. AmberNoon is aware that this is one more reason to reduce or limit the unnecessary exposure to these products.