Q: Are kids' pyjamas coated with flame retardants?
A: Whether kids are nodding off in Justin Bieber PJs or footed onesies, there's a thick layer of regulation between them and their sleepwear - and you might or might not like what it stipulates.
Why is Health Canada so interested in jammies? Well, the government department says approximately 21 children per year used to suffer serious burn injuries, and two died from them, as a result of PJs catching fire before flame retardant rules were introduced in the late 80s.
Since 1998, no burns or deaths have been reported. More joyous news: Health Canada says flame retardants sprayed on garments aren't necessary to meet its guidelines. But guess what? Synthetics like polyester have flame retardants built into the fibres; otherwise, they'd melt like a marshmallow if your child got close to a candle. (They are plastic fibres, after all.) Nylon fabrics are generally treated at a later stage.
By the way, while one type of flame retardant - neurotoxic, mutagenic, cancer-linked retardant chlorinated tris - was banned from pyjamas in the 1970s, it's shockingly still turning up in foam childcare products like nursing pillows.
A 2011 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that of 101 baby products containing polyurethane foam (car seats, strollers, crib mattresses, etc), 36 per cent contained chlorinated tris and 80 per cent contained halogenated flame retardants.
But I digress. You can get away from flame retardants altogether if you buy kids' cotton pyjamas labelled as snug-fitting. Loose-fitting, retardant-free cotton sleepwear and robes are illegal because they light up too easily. In the U.S., Macy's was slapped with record fines of $850,000 for selling some.
Want snug-fitting organic PJs? You'll find some at Hannaandersson.com in the U.S., Newjammiesshop.com (online in Canada at Kaikids.com and Mylittlegreenshop.com) and Treehousefunwear.ca. Or stop by the green kids' retailer nearest you, like Baby on the Hip in Leslieville.
Sears even has some - well, they have one: an organic cotton sleeper for babes. Bug them about it and maybe they'll carry more.
One more PJ note: avoid PJs printed with PVC plastic cartoons. Yes, the feds have banned or at least restricted six hormone-disrupting phthalates from kids' toys and certain childcare items, but clothes aren't covered. Health Canada's perspective is that unless that vinyl has a good chance of being mouthed, it's not a concern.
Denmark takes a much harder line. It's working to convince the EU to let it ban four phthalates from all consumer products designed for indoor use with which consumers - young or old - have direct contact. That would mean no phthalate-laced PVC-decorated PJs for lucky Danish boys and girls. Hopefully the luck spreads west.
Q: Is silk really an eco product?
A: Silk was once a prestigious, imperial material, but when you can find it at Walmart, you know the mighty have fallen.
It's technically a natural fibre, which is why lots of high-end eco designers blend silk into their green lines. It's also renewable (unlike crude-oil-derived synthetics) and biodegradable in the long term. Nonetheless, the manufacture of conventional silk involves boiling moth cocoons in a highly caustic solution. The boiling/gasing/steaming happens with the silkworm/silkmoth inside (it's done before the moth has a chance to emerge and tear the cocoon fibres), so suffice it to say it ain't a vegan fabric.
Extracting and weaving silk fibres is also a seriously labour-intensive process. (You need around 3,000 cocoons to create a pound of silk.) And since it's being done in Asia, you can assume fair wages aren't par for the course.
Not that all silk is made this way. Some companies claim they use fair trade silk, and many more offer types of peace silk (where the moth emerges from the cocoon to live a full life, maybe even start a family before the cocoons are collected), including wild silk, tussah/tussore and ahimsa silks, which are generally processed in a more natural way.
If you're less concerned about the life of the moth and just looking for a silk that hasn't been chemically processed, raw silk is a common option in fabric stores. That's not to say it hasn't been chemically dyed, so look for raw silk that's undyed or gets its colour from low-impact dyes.
Some people claim to carry organic silk, but certification is hard to come by, so you'll have to press companies for details about what they mean by "organic." But I have seen fair trade, certified-organic silk dental floss, so anything is possible.
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