Q: We have an 8-month-old and are moving into an apartment with wall-to-wall carpet that was installed in 2004. I heard that fire retardants used in carpets made before 2006 can be dangerous. Is that true?
— Jane P., Chicago
A: Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately, the fire retardant used in the foam padding of your carpet probably is polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE); it was taken off the U.S. market between 2004 and 2006, but it had been in use since the 1970s. When foam padding on carpeting breaks down, it turns to dust that can be inhaled or ingested. A recent study seems to have made a direct connection between prenatal and everyday exposure to PBDE and higher rates of hyperactivity and lower IQ scores in children. Children also can be exposed through breast milk. Another study found that PBDE accumulates in fat tissue, builds up from repeated exposure and can alter how adipose tissue functions.
So check to see if the carpet is labeled as complying with CA Bulletin 117; that’s the 2000 California fire-retardant standard (turns out it was a bad idea) that mandated fire retardants be used in a wide range of household items — and they were generally PBDEs.