Study on Flame Retardants in Baby Products Named ES&T’s Top Science Paper of 2011

March 4, 2012

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, NC – A peer-reviewed study identifying the presence of banned or potentially harmful flame-retardant chemicals in baby products by Heather Stapleton, assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has been named the top Science Paper of 2011 by the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T). 

The journal announced the honor today. 

Flame-retardant chemicals are found in the polyurethane foam padding used in car seats, nursing pillows, portable cribs, sleep positioners and dozens of other everyday baby products. 

Stapleton’s study tested 101 products and found that five of them contained a flame-retardant chemical that has been banned by eight U.S. states and the European Union due to its persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity. Nine of the products tested had small amounts of a chemical that has been labeled as a human carcinogen, and 36 products contained a flame-retardant that the Consumer Products Safety Commission calls a probable carcinogen. 

Eighty samples, in total, contained an identifiable flame retardant additive, and all but one of these was either chlorinated or brominated. Stapleton and her team also identified two chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants not previously documented in the environment or in consumer products. 

The groundbreaking study, which was the first to report on the use of these chemicals in baby products, was published in ES&T on May 18. It was one of the 10 most-cited studies in the journal all year, and generated news coverage in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, “CBS Evening News” and other major media outlets. 

You can read the full study at 

Stapleton’s co-authors were Susan Klosterhaus of the San Francisco Estuary Institute in Oakland, Calif.; Alex Keller, a Duke undergraduate; P. Lee Ferguson and Ellen Cooper of the Nicholas School; Saskia van Bergen of East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland; Thomas F. Webster of the Boston University School of Public Health; and Arlene Blum of the University of California-Berkeley and the Green Science Policy Institute. 

 Stapleton joined the Nicholas School faculty in 2005. In 2008, she received a $2.2 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Health to investigate children’s exposure to flame retardants.