San Francisco Replaces Toxic Nap Mats In City’s Most Vulnerable Childcare Centers

December 4, 2020
nap mats

In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to ban flame retardants. Why? 

Flame retardants threaten our babies’ brain development, affecting neurodevelopment. Scientific studies link flame retardants to cancer and to endocrine system harm. Though these chemicals actually do little to slow or prevent fire, they do leach out into house dust, creating a major exposure route for babies and young children who spend lots of time playing on the ground and putting their hands in their mouths. 

And, people of color and those living in low-income households often carry a higher body burden of flame retardants.

To keep kids healthy, the city of San Francisco took a more hands-on approach to reducing exposure to flame retardants in child care centers and family homes that serve San Francisco’s most vulnerable children. 

“We know how important years 0–5 are for a child’s brain development,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “It’s critical that we eliminate harmful exposure to chemicals like lead and flame retardants from our everyday lives, and especially from places where children live, learn, and play. This project is empowering child care providers to create a healthier environment so that every child in their care can thrive.”

nap mat

The San Francisco Department of the Environment, Department of Public Health, Wu Yee Children’s Services, and the Children’s Council are replacing flame retardant-containing nap mats with nap mats free of flame retardants for child care providers serving low-income households. Funding from the Bright Cities and the Mayors Innovation Project as well as the California Environmental Protection Agency supported this effort.

To date, over 160 child care providers have received training and over 700 nap mats have been replaced.  Partners also provided virtual training for child care providers to share practical and cost-effective tips for creating healthier childcare environments. This year, staff held five online trainings in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. 

In addition to discussing the harms caused by flame retardants, the training also touches upon lead prevention and how to effectively address COVID-19 without using asthma-causing chemicals. This work builds on ongoing training efforts that have developed resources such as the  “Bleach-Free Toolkit” here, and the Safer COVID-19 cleaning products and disinfectants.

Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Pauli Ojea, Senior Coordinator in the Commercial Toxics Reduction Program at the San Francisco Department of the Environment at

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at