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Toxic nap mats draw suit in Oakland

Stephanie M. Lee

Updated 10:32 pm, Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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Many sleep mats contain chlorinated Tris, which was banned from pajamas in 1979 and is known to damage DNA. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

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An Oakland watchdog group said Tuesday it is suing major manufacturers and retailers, including Target and Amazon.com, for selling nap mats made with a toxic flame retardant that is also a known carcinogen.

The lawsuit is the latest legal move for the group, which last year put the companies on notice for selling or making similarly contaminated changing pads, crib mattresses and other items. While some of the manufacturers and retailers say they’ve started to change their practices, the Center for Environmental Health says it wants the courts to require swift action.

Many foam nap mats, which are widely used at places like day care centers, are doused with flame retardants linked to obesity, hormone disruption and infertility, according to the lawsuit. One of those flame retardants is chlorinated Tris, a carcinogen that was banned more than 30 years ago from children’s pajamas, the group says.

These chemicals are released into the air that infants and toddlers inhale as they doze on the mats, said Caroline Cox, the center’s research director.

“Kids are sleeping on them with their nose practically right up against the mat,” she said.

According to a report released by the center Tuesday, a Duke University scientist found flame retardants in 22 out of 24 nap mats that researchers bought or borrowed in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states.

The Center for Environmental Health used that information as the basis of lawsuits filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court against the following vendors and sellers of nap mats: Target, Amazon.com, Lakeshore Learning, Venture Products and Peerless Products.

The lawsuit also targets companies, which the group first identified in December, for making and selling infant recliners, crib mattresses and other foam products with chlorinated Tris. These companies include Babies R Us, Walmart, Kmart, Delta Children, Bed Bath & Beyond, Foundations, Angeles, A Baby, Dex Products, Children’s Factory, Munchkin, Carpenter, Baby Doll Bedding and Infants Wear, Hayneedle and Baby Matters.

According to the lawsuit, the companies illegally failed to inform consumers that the products contain chlorinated Tris, which was banned from pajamas in 1979.

That omission violates Proposition 65, the state’s consumer protection law, which requires warning labels on products with certain toxicants, the group said.

The group said it can only sue sellers and makers of items with chlorinated Tris, because the other flame retardants found are not subject to Prop. 65.

Jessica Deede, a Target spokeswoman, did not comment on the lawsuit except to say, “We abide by all state and federal laws, and expect our vendors to do the same.” Amazon did not return a request for comment.

Halting sales

Toys R Us, which owns Babies R Us, said it is discussing the lawsuit’s claims with its suppliers, and some retailers, such as Walmart and Lakeshore Learning, have said they would stop selling products with chlorinated Tris.

The Center for Environmental Health is suing to legally ensure they stick to their promise, Cox said.

Flame retardants have been controversial because of a 1975 California requirement that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture and some children’s items resist a small flame for 12 seconds.

Many nap mats carry tags that say they comply with California’s flammability law, known as Technical Bulletin 117. But while TB-117 regulates booster seats, infant mattresses and other children’s products, it doesn’t apply to nap mats.

Manufacturers routinely add flame retardants to items that aren’t included under the 1975 law. Cox said it is unclear why the chemicals were added to nap mats.

Many studies have found that the chemicals do little to stop foam items from catching fire.

Flame retardants common

The 24 mats analyzed by the Duke researcher were bought from stores, online and in person. Some of them were also borrowed from child care centers.

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