Where can I get flame retardant free equipment?
This is our most frequently asked question. A number of suppliers now offer flame retardant free pit cubes upon request. Below is a list of manufacturers that we have confirmed offer flame retardant free pit cubes:
Landing mats with a have a vinyl cover should not need to contain flame retardants to meet flammability standards. Your gym can ask their supplier for a certificate from the manufacturer that the product is flame retardant free.
We also recommend purchasing foam-containing equipment that is Certipur compliant, which indicates it was likely manufactured in the US and is free of other known contaminants. However note that Certipur foam is not necessarily free of all harmful flame retardants (i.e., it may contain components of the Firemaster mixture such as triphenyl phosphate). You can have your foam tested to double check: http://foam.pratt.duke.edu/
Important: Note that ‘free of harmful flame retardants’ may still contain potentially harmful flame retardants whereas flame retardant free should mean that no flame retardant chemicals are used.
Disclaimer: It remains unclear whether flame retardant free pit cubes are currently an option for most gyms in the U.S. as this is at the discretion of local fire officials. We are currently working with a fire protection engineer to provide additional insight on this issue and engage the fire safety community. Join our email list to receive updates as they become available.
Suppliers may contact us and request being included on the list. We will ask for a foam sample to confirm.
Are gyms moving away from purchasing foam containing flame retardant chemicals?
Yes. One has even issued a statement on the subject. In this case one of the gymnast parents approached the fire Marshall with information about the health concerns about flame retardants and data showing that the chemicals are not as effective as advertised. The gym owner said this was very helpful as the Fire Marshall is often skeptical of a business but can be more receptive to the public. We are working on developing fact sheets that will help people start these conversations with their gyms and local fire officials.
Are flame retardants regulated?
Some states have taken action on flame retardants but they aren’t federally regulated. An article by the Environmental Working Group has some information specific to flame retardants found in pit cubes. The Green Science Policy Institute website is another resource that may be useful.
Should I cover my pit cubes in fabric covers?
The main benefits of fabric covers are that they extend the life of a pit cube and reduce the amount of dust generated by a foam pit. A fabric cover may help reduce flame retardant exposure in the gym by reducing pit dust, however this has not been tested and may be negated if there are flame retardants in the fabric cover. We know that flame retardants escape from the foam of upholstered furniture and have found no difference in levels in dust using fabric vs. leather upholstery, therefore it is likely that flame retardants in foam pit cubes will easily pass through a fabric cover.
How can I tell if a foam product (gymnastics mat, pit cube, couch, office chair ect.) contains flame retardants?
Often the equipment vendor will list whether a product meets fire safety standards or contains flame retardants in the product specifications. However, we have found that products listed as not meeting fire safety standards sometimes contain flame retardants anyways. The only way to know for sure is by analyzing small samples of foam in the lab. The Duke University Superfund Program offers a free foam testing service.
Residential furniture often bears a tag stating that the product meets the specifications of California Technical Bulletin 117. This typically means the product contains flame retardants, however not all products that contain flame retardants have this tag . While conducting the gymnast study we did not observe a similar tag on any of the mats or pit cubes.
How can I approach my gym about these concerns?
With sensitivity. As this was likely surprising and distressing news for you, it will also be upsetting news for your gym. You might start by asking for a private appointment with the gym owner or coach where you can share our fact sheet with them and direct them to the recommendations on our ‘Take Action‘ page. You may also ask them to join our email list or do so yourself in order to stay up to date on future recommendations.
How do I talk to my 13 year old gymnast daughter about your findings?
This might be a good opportunity to start a conversation about environmental health. You can encourage her to become educated about flame retardants and other environmental chemicals as well as in leading and/or supporting initiatives in their gym regarding this issue. Below are links to a documentary and three non-profit organizations that aim to educate consumers about flame retardants and other environmental chemicals:
Does gymnastics equipment contain unusually high levels of flame retardants?
The levels of flame retardants in the pit cubes were not unusually high compared to what is typically found in foam, however levels in the dust and air of the gym were much higher than what has been measured in homes, offices or vehicles. This is likely because of the large amount of foam-containing equipment in the gym environment and that exposure to light accelerates foam degradation as does compression.
PentaBDE was phased out of use, are there regulatory limits on what is permissible for indoor environments or in the bodies of people?
PentaBDE was voluntarily phased out of use in the US. There are currently no indoor environment regulatory limits for PentaBDE or the other flame retardants that we are aware of. PentaBDE has been replaced with other organophosphate flame retardants including TDCIPP and the Firemaster mixture (TPP, EH-TBB, TBPH) which are less persistent in the body but are also potential endocrine disrupting chemicals with potential health concerns.
Will ventilation, increased air circulation or use of a ‘chalk eater’ reduce levels of flame retardants in the gym?
Possibly, however this has not yet been tested. Flame retardants are semi-volatile which means they can ‘evaporate’ into the air, but prefer to be attached to particles (i.e., dust or organic films). Therefore, flame retardants may also sorb to chalk like it does to dust and be trapped in a chalk eater. We know that flame retardants will sorb to air filters, therefore regular replacement of filters may also be helpful at reducing levels in the gym. We are interested in investigating the effectiveness of various intervention strategies. If your gym might be interested in testing that type of intervention please contact us. All identifying information is confidential.