An alert for parents: CWRU nursing school researcher raises awareness of flame-retardant dangers in household products

Laura DistelhorstParents might be surprised to learn their cellphones, living room sofas, baby carriers, bouncy baby chairs and even some pizza boxes may contain chemicals harmful to young children, according to Case Western Reserve University nursing school researcher Laura Distelhorst.

Distelhorst, an instructor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, plans to raise awareness about the dangers of exposure to chemical flame-retardants found in common household products that make babies and children vulnerable to cognitive and physical problems as they grow and develop.

The pediatric nurse, pursuing her doctor of nurse practice degree, has launched the research project “Pediatric Nurses’ Knowledge of Toxic Chemical Flame Retardants.”

The Ohio Nurses Foundation awarded her a $2,000 grant to support a survey of more than 100 pediatric nurses from several major organizations over the next six months. The goal: to find out what pediatric nurses know about chemicals with such names as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), Firemaster 550, and Tris phosphate family (TCPP, TDCPP and TCEP).

Distelhorst plans to use their responses to develop an online program and/or workshop materials to inform nurses, who, in turn, can share the knowledge with parents and their children.

The dangers of flame-retardants became known—and some banned in the 1970s—when children exhibited development changes tracked to chemicals in their pajamas.

Many flame-retardant chemicals are found in plastics. They become harmful when particles are released into the air and breathed in, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

Some nurses and parents may be unaware how pervasive the chemicals are—even those found in some brands of car seats and crib mattresses, Distelhorst said.

In the meantime, Distelhorst offers the following tips to reduce harmful chemical particles in the home:

  • Frequent hand washing;
  • Wet mop floors weekly to remove dust to decrease home levels of the chemical flame-retardants;
  • Open windows daily, even in winter, to air out the house for 10 minutes;
  • Clean out the lint trap in the dryer, dispose of the lint and wash your hands with soap and water to prevent releasing the particles into the air or on surfaces around the house; and
  • Read labels to understand what chemicals are in products before buying them.

Distelhorst also recommends visiting websites like the Ecology Center’s to learn which products do not contain chemical flame-retardants and are safe for children.