California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has sued five baby furniture manufacturers for failing to warn consumers about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas emitted by their products, including cribs and changing tables.

Were suing these companies because parents deserve to know if theres a dangerous chemical in products for children, Brown said. Over the past two years, weve brought other actions to ensure the safety of childrens products, such as lead in toys and phthalates in baby bibs.

"Increasingly, the wood and other materials in consumer products are produced globally, and the lack of tough safeguards and strict enforcement can lead to dangerous levels of exposure, Brown added.

Passed by voters in 1986, Proposition 65 requires manufacturers to provide clear and reasonable warnings of chemicals in their products that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

The states lawsuit alleges that Child Craft, Delta Enterprise Corp., Stork Craft, South Shore Industries and Jardine Enterprises manufactured baby furniture, such as cribs and changing tables, that emit formaldehyde — a chemical known to cause cancer — and failed to provide any warning about this risk.

In addition to being a carcinogen, formaldehyde has been shown to contribute to respiratory problems like asthma. The levels of formaldehyde gas emitted from the baby furniture, when combined with other potential sources of formaldehyde in the home, are high enough to cause respiratory irritation to children sleeping in the cribs.

Prop 65 standards

The Environmental California Research and Policy Center, an organization that evaluates products for carcinogens, tested the companies baby furniture. Based on that testing and on his own test results, the Attorney General calculated that the furniture exposes children to formaldehyde gas at levels well above the Proposition 65 limit of 40 micrograms per day.

In addition to violating Proposition 65 standards for emission levels, the baby products exceed the recommendations for formaldehyde emission set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Department of Public Health.

Formaldehyde is present in plywood, particle board (generally in the glues), fiberglass, paint and insulation. Concentrations can reach especially dangerous levels in rooms that are not well-ventilated.

Businesses that violate Proposition 65 are subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. In addition, courts may order businesses to stop manufacturing products that are in violation of the standards. Todays lawsuit seeks to remedy past violations and to prompt manufacturers and retailers to prevent baby furniture containing formaldehyde from being sold without warning consumers about the risks of exposure.

Unfair competition

The state is also suing the companies for violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prevents businesses from undertaking any action that gives them an advantage over other businesses. In this case, by not posting warnings about carcinogens on their products like other companies must do under the law, the five companies unfairly profited. The state is seeking $2,500 for each violation.

Proposition 65 is enforced through lawsuits brought by the attorney general, district attorneys and some city attorneys. Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties after notifying the attorney general of the alleged violation. Last November, Attorney General Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo sued twenty toy companies for manufacturing or selling toys with unlawful quantities of lead.

Although Proposition 65 only requires companies to post hazard warnings, many businesses choose to eliminate the toxic chemicals altogether.

Flame retardants

Brown's suit is the latest in a series of warnings, studies and enforcement actions centered around chemicals that are widely present in products used by children.

Earlier this month, a study suggested that although flame retardant chemicals used in clothing and other fabrics may keep children safe from burns, they might be causing harm in other ways.

In the first nationwide investigation of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group found that toddlers and pre-schoolers typically had 3 times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood than their mothers. The study suggests that U.S. children 1 to 4 years of age bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.

Laboratory tests conducted in collaboration with Dr. ke Bergman, a preeminent environmental chemist found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the toxic chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The tests found the fire retardant Deca, banned in Europe but unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more often and in higher amounts in U.S. children than their mothers.

In 2003 EWG published test results showing that the average level of fire-retardants in breast milk from 20 American moms was 75 times higher than the average levels measured in Europe. This study confirms that same high exposure in American children.

"U.S. chemical law leaves children unprotected from toxic chemicals that other industrialized countries long ago banned," said Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at EWG and co-author of the study. "It's time for real, comprehensive reform that puts the health of children first," Lunder added.

The average levels of PBDEs in the blood of children tested by EWG were about 62 parts per billion, compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In the limited number of studies of this age group in other countries, Spanish and Norwegian children had levels 6 to 13 times lower. Australian children have roughly equal levels.

Toxic fire retardants in everyday items like furniture, sofas, televisions and computers could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended safe level. Children ingest more fire retardants and other toxins when they put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.

Children's developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a single dose administered to mice on a day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.

"It's well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than adults in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk," said Anila Jacob, MD, EWG senior scientist and study co-author. "Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure to these and other toxic chemicals."

"These chemicals are everywhere - in food, in our homes and schools," said Laurie Yung of Missoula, Mont., who was tested along with her 3-year-old son, Conner. "We need laws to protect us from exposure not only to these chemicals, but that will make sure chemicals are safe for kids before they're allowed on the market."

"I am extremely disturbed to see children have higher exposures than their mothers, especially at a time that they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects," said Bergman.

Other moms and kids in the study were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, the European Union has banned it from use, 10 U.S. states are considering or have enacted legislative bans, and major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing-out other bromine-based fire retardants.