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Silent Spring Institute: Reducing Reliance on Flame Retardants in Foam Pits

Project Details

Year: 2016
Location: Greater Boston Area
Project Manager: Courtney Carignan, Postdoctoral Fellow
Partners: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Duke University

Overview

Gymnastics training facilities contain large volumes of polyurethane foam (PUF) in the form of landing mats and the loose foam pit, which are used to ensure the physical safety of gymnasts. A loose foam pit is a large landing area that is filled with uncovered cubes of PUF, which often contain flame retardant (FR) chemicals. Silent Spring Institute reported that gymnasts can experience high exposures to flame retardants.  The goal of the project was to identify the most appropriate flammability standard to apply to loose foam pits.  They hypothesized that the revised standard could be effective for loose foam pits and aim to test whether a naturally flame resistant fabric cover for pit cubes can meet that standard. The other objectives are to obtain a better understanding of fire hazards in gyms and to effectively disseminate this information to key stakeholders including gym owners, fire marshals, industry, gymnasts, coaches and parents. 

Results

The team obtained materials to test three types of cube pit systems.  They were able to ID one of the three alternatives as more fire resistant than the others, but further testing is being done to solidify these results.  The findings are extremely useful to the gymnastics community and their local fire officials in considering alternate approaches to fire safety while reducing reliance on flame retardants in foam pits.   Additionally, Dr. Carignan hosted a webinar in May 2016 that drew 37 participants including equipment suppliers, gym owners/coaches, gymnast parents and fire engineers and environmental activists. Half of all participants indicated they had a high knowledge of the topic prior to the seminar and half reported an increase in knowledge from low or medium to medium or high following the webinar.  The project remains ongoing and are moving forward with a gym to replace the foam pit with a safer alternative.  Upon completion of the flammability testing the project team will submit an article to a peer reviewed scientific journal and will be shared Gymnast Care, International Gymnastics Magazine Online and USA Gymnastics.



This page updated Thursday December 01 2016