Flame retardants are added to these products, and many others, in an effort to improve fire safety. However, they do not stay in the foam. They evaporate into the air and degrade into dust. They get on our hands and we accidentally ingest them. We also inhaled them and they can enter through our skin.
Once in our bodies they remain there for a long time. It takes years for some types of flame retardants to be eliminated.
There is concern that flame retardants are not good for our health. Some types can disrupt levels of thyroid hormone in the body. Thyroid hormone is important for development and metabolism, so its disruption could cause a number of health problems. The types of potential health effects is a topic of ongoing research. Some research has found population-wide decreases in fertility (e.g., taking longer to get pregnant) [7-8] and others have found increases in developmental behavioral disorders such as ADHD [3-6]. Concerns among public health professionals have caused some types to be phased out of use and people are advised to try to limit how much enters their bodies.
One way to reduce how much flame retardant enters your body is by washing your hands. with soap and water, after practice and before you eat. Accidentally ingesting dust is an important way that flame retardants get into our bodies , so this is an easy way that gymnasts and coaches can help protect themselves while other recommendations and solutions are explored.
It is currently unclear whether purchasing flame retardant free foam is currently an option for gyms, as they may be required to meet certain fire codes. However, regulations are changing in a way that may provide a solution for pit cubes. Under a revised standard the foam can be untreated provided there is a fire resistant cover. Because certain fabrics are naturally fire resistant, re-engineering covered pit cubes without the use of additive flame retardants is a potential solution.
1) Share this information with your gym, ask them to institute a hand washing policy for gymnasts and hang posters to encourage hand washing.
2) Send in a pit cube for free testing.
3) Join our email list to be notified by email when new recommendations occur and additional opportunities to help with this research (e.g., providing feedback or participating in a future research study).
4) Talk to your local fire safety officer and ask them what regulations apply to your gym. Ask them whether sprinkler systems enough to meet fire safety standards and if they’ve heard about the revised TB-117 standard. Let us know what you find out!