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 they offer flame retardant free pit cubes:
We suggest asking your supplier to provide a document in writing that foam equipment or pit cube covers is ‘free of all flame retardant chemicals’.
Note that the terminology ‘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.
Foam that is free of flame retardants should be similar in price, or less expensive, than if it contains flame retardant chemicals.
‘Certipur’ indicates that the foam is free of other known contaminants, however is not necessarily free of flame retardants (i.e., it may contain components of the Firemaster mixture such as triphenyl phosphate).
Landing mats with a vinyl cover should not need to contain flame retardants to meet flammability standards.
You can send a small piece of foam to The Duke University Superfund Program for free testing of 7 flame retardants commonly found in foam. They also have some useful resources including a webinar and infograph.
Suppliers may contact us to request being included on the list above. We will ask for a foam sample to confirm.
Balancing chemical and fire safety:
The GFRC has facilitated a flammability study and is engaging the fire protection community regarding flame retardants in pit cubes and fire safety. More information and guidance will become available in the coming year (2017). You can join our email list or Facebook group to receive updates.
Are gyms moving away from purchasing foam containing flame retardant chemicals?
Yes, the most common question we receive is where to purchase flame retardant free equipment and how to get foam tested for flame retardants.
A gym on the west coast conducted a study measuring levels in dust in the gym and at coaches homes. When high levels were identified they replaced the foam in pits at all their gyms. In this case one of the gymnast parents approached the Fire Marshal 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 Marshal 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?
Use of a fabric cover is expected to reduce dust and extend the life of a pit cube, however flame retardants in foam pit cubes are expected to pass easily through a fabric cover. For example, 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. Also, be aware that some fabric covers may contain flame retardants. We suggest asking your supplier to provide a document in writing that the cover is ‘free of all flame retardant chemicals’.
How can I tell if a foam product contains flame retardants?
You can ask your supplier to provide a document in writing that the cover is ‘free of all flame retardant chemicals’. You can also send in a small piece of foam to The Duke University Superfund Program for free testing.
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 . Newer products may have a tag that says its free of flame retardants. 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 and recent articles published by USAG in Technique (page 36) and coach’s letter posted online. You may also ask them to join our email list or do so yourself in order to stay up to date on future recommendations.
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 because of accelerated degradation due to sunlight (when foam is uncovered) and frequent 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.
How do I talk to my 13 year old gymnast about your findings?
This might be a good opportunity to start a conversation about environmental health. You can encourage your child 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.
Where can I get more information?
Below are some useful resources for information about environmental chemicals as well as flame retardants, human exposure, health concerns, fire codes, and regulation: