Sleep Tight … and Reduce Risk of Fire Injury to Children

LUBBOCK – A welcoming fire in the hearth is one thing … a fire in the house is another. And with the weather getting colder, house fires may be more likely, said an expert from Texas Cooperative Extension.

In order to protect children against fire injury, Dr. Pam Brown, Extension consumer science specialist, offered two words of advice: Sleep tight.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission wants consumers to be aware that loose-fitting cotton garments are not a good sleepwear choice for kids,” she said.

Instead, she advises that children’s sleepwear should be either close fitting or fire retardant, or both.

Other experts agree. On the FireSafety.gov Web site ( http://www.firesafety.gov/directory/public/clothing.shtm ), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges parents to choose sleepwear for their children that follows these guidelines.

The safety commission also advises that T-shirts “and other loose-fitting clothing made of cotton or cotton blends should not be used for children’s sleepwear. These garments can catch fire easily, burn rapidly and are associated with nearly 300 emergency room-treated burn injuries to children each year.”

Fire-retardant fabrics have been treated with chemicals that makes them less likely to catch fire and more likely to stop burning once they are away from of the source of the flame, Brown said.

“Fire retardant chemicals used today, called PBDE’s, not only can prevent or slow ignition, but also hinder the fire’s spread,” she said. “Used in many household products, PBDE can give a person valuable time in escaping the ravages of fire by delaying the ignition of combustible materials present in a room.”

Tight-fitting clothing prevents too much air circulation next to the body, she said. And oxygen is what feeds flames.

These fabrics and fits are so important in children’s sleepwear because children are more likely to be exposed to fire hazards at those times of day when they are more likely to be wearing pajamas. The safety commission put it this way: “Children are most at risk from burn injuries that result from playing with fire (matches, lighters, candles, burners on stoves) just before bedtime and just after rising in the morning.”

The safest children’s sleepwear is even more important this time of year.

The winter holiday season that includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day is marked by an increase in the number of structure fires and “the dollar loss per fire is 34 percent greater than normal,” according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The agency attributes this increase in part to the use of Christmas trees and other decorations, combustible materials such as wrapping paper, and candles ( http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/reports/pubs/seasonal.shtm ) .

There’s more: In 2002, about 2,500 children and 2,300 older adults were injured or killed in home fires in the U.S. ( http://www.usfa.fema.gov/about/media/2005releases/061605.shtm )

While fire-retardant and/or tight-fitting sleepwear won’t prevent every burn injury to children, it’s a good place to start, Brown said.

For one thing, fire-retardant doesn’t mean fire-proof, Brown said. Care should still be an important factor when dealing with fire, even a candle flame, she said.

For another, fire-retardant chemicals sometimes wash out over time, Brown said.

“Consumers should read labels and carefully follow the care instructions to prolong the life of the finish and ensure better protection,” she said.

And some environmental groups aren’t completely comfortable with the idea of adding these chemicals to children’s clothing, she said.

Studies on the chemicals done in Europe in 2001 “showed undesirable effects on the livers and thyroid hormones of experimental mice,” Brown said. Based on those studies “they more or less discarded or banned the use of the chemicals in interior products” in Europe.

Now some environmental groups in the U.S. want to ban the use of these chemicals in this country, she said.

“Many organizations are concerned because the flame-retardant chemicals break down over time and are dispersed into the air and dust present in homes,” Brown said. “The chemicals are then inhaled. Research is finding that the retardant-laden dust particles are found in human tissue.”

For more information visit the Web at http://www.checnet.org .

What should parents do if they want to get their children safe sleepwear but are concerned about the chemicals used in the fire-retardant process? Tight-fitting clothing will still help, Brown said. And so will clothing made from naturally flame-resistant fabrics such as wool, nylon and polyester.

And above all, be careful with fire, she said.

“Keep candles and cigarette lighters and matches out of children’s reach. Eliminate the source of the flame. Parents have to be alert and closely supervise children,” she said.

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