Kids Self-Care Thrive

Avoiding PBDEs in Halloween Costumes

halloween girl
Written by Jessika Firmage

Did you know that costume companies are required to use flame retardant chemicals on children’s Halloween costumes?  I can see the reason why, there are jack-o-lanterns on just about every front porch on Halloween, but are these chemicals really safe?   These flame retardant chemicals are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and are linked to all kinds of health problems — brain and nervous system impairment, reproduction and fertility impairment, persistent and bioaccumulative, neurotoxin, brain damage, thyroid issues — the list goes on and on.

“Published studies express concern because exposure to PBDEs impairs development of the nervous system. PBDEs have also been shown to have hormone disrupting effects, particularly on estrogen and thyroid hormones. Experiments with animals have identified deiodination, active transport, and sulfation, in addition to glucuronidation, may be involved in disruption of thyroid homeostasis after perinatal exposure to PBDEs during critical developmental time points in utero and days after birth. These adverse effects on hepatic mechanism of thyroid hormone disruption during development have been shown to persist into adulthood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that PBDEs are particularly toxic to the developing brains of animals. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that even a single dose administered to mice during development of the brain can cause permanent changes in behavior, including hyperactivity.”

Halloween costumes are only one of many concerns when it comes to our exposure to PBDEs.  Children’s sleepwear size 14 and under are all treated with PBDEs, unless labeled otherwise, or you live in California.  Electronics, TVs, computers, cell phones, carpet, cars, mattresses, etc.  It really is quite scary.  Doesn’t it amaze you, that with all the chemicals we are all exposed to every day, that we don’t all have major health issues?  I don’t want to count on the fact that I have been lucky up to this point.  If we can start eliminating toxic household items now, and become more aware of what we are exposing our children to, their chances of growing up with good health only increases.

What ever happened to the good old days of making your own costumes?  When I was young, my mom and dad always made our costumes.  Often using recycled, and reusable items from around the house.  Give my dad a cardboard box, and before you know it, one of us kids was a Rubix Cube.  The coolest costume I have seen to this day. One year my brother was a tube of toothpaste, and I was a toothbrush…all made from cardboard, they were incredible, and original.

Buying a $20-$40 costume every year, and using it once, is ridiculous.  That is a lot of wasted money, resources, and time.  Consider making your child’s costume, get creative with things you already have lying around.  And if you need help getting started, I have made a list of resources to get your wheels turning.  It may be the only way to assure you aren’t exposing your kids to PBDE’s via costumes.  All you really need to do to reduce your child’s chance of catching on fire is…get this…chaperone them.  Hold their hand, remind little ones of the dangers of candles in jack-o-lanterns.  Children shouldn’t be out trick-or-treating unsupervised anyway.


Environmental Working Group

Environmental Protection Agency

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry – CDC

About the author

Jessika Firmage