In 2014, the Washington Toxics Coalition alerted Seattle Gymnastics Academy to the issue of flame retardants in loose foam. Gyms typically have loose foam block pits to create a soft landing for gymnasts learning new skills. SGA paid for an academic study to tests the dust in the gym and in employee’s homes. The study found toxic chemicals from fire retardants in both, with higher concentrations at the gym. We also contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to perform wipe tests on employees’ hands before and after their shifts. The tests identified higher levels of 12 different fire retardant chemicals and 3 additional fire retardant chemicals on employees’ hands after their shifts.
As a result of these studies, SGA found a new foam supplier and became the first gym in the United States to replace all of their loose foam with flame retardant-free foam. We also replaced the carpet around the foam pits, which tends to collect dust. When NIOSH returned to repeat the wipe test on employee’s hands, the presence of flame retardant chemicals had dropped by two-thirds.
This project wasn’t a money-maker—in fact, it cost SGA about $45,000. Our efforts both protect our clients and raise much-needed awareness about the presence of toxic fire retardants in products that children come into contact with.