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Pajama Recall Comes Amid Scientific Breakthrough in Flame-Resistant Cotton

A children’s clothing brand has issued a recall on cotton pajamas that failed to meet flammability standards.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that San Francisco-based Paper Cape’s Classic pajamas and Classic Footless pajamas pose a risk of burn injuries to children. CPSC and the brand last week announced that any consumers who purchased the two-piece sets or onesies, available in sizes ranging from 12 months to 12 years in more than a dozen prints and colors, should either return or destroy the products and contact Paper Cape for a refund in the form of store credit.

According to the CPSC, the 100-percent Pima cotton styles did not meet children’s sleepwear guidelines, which dictate that any garments sold in sizes larger than nine months must be tight-fitting or flame resistant.

“The design of our pajamas in sizes 12M+ do not meet flammability standards; specifically they do not fit snug enough to the body and could pose a risk of burn injuries in the event of a fire,” Paper Cape wrote on its e-commerce site. “Cotton PJs are required to be snug fitting because they are more likely to ignite if there is air between a child’s skin and the fabric.” Exceptions to the fit designation include certain synthetics and blends, like polyester, that demonstrate more flame-retardant properties, or items that have been treated with fire-resistant chemicals.

The recall impacts only pajamas in sizes above 12 months, not infant pajamas or other apparel items sold by the brand. “We want to assure you that no injuries have been reported, and this action is the result of a regular product review,” it added. The affected pajamas were sold through and at boutiques across the U.S. from November 2018 through November 2022, for $45-$58. CPSC estimates that about 5,720 units were sold in total.

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Scientists have long sought to modernize flame-retardant treatments for cotton textiles, making them less toxic for consumers and the environment. But researchers at the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) have also been developing a new strain of cotton that is naturally less flammable than common varietals, negating the need for flame-retardant additives altogether.

Led by research biologist Gregory Thyssen, the findings, published last month in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Journal, reveal that breeding multi-parent cotton populations produces “new combinations of alleles of genes, and can result in traits that are superior to those of any of the parents”—including flame resistance. “Flammability of textiles is an obvious safety and economic concern for textile and cotton consumers, producers and regulatory agencies,” researchers wrote.

Top: traditional cotton. Bottom: flame-resistant varieties. PLOS Journal

Certain varieties of brown cotton cultivated through selective breeding have been found in the past to possess natural fire-resistant qualities, including self-extinguishing when exposed to an open flame. White cotton, by contrast, must be treated with chemicals to achieve the same effect. Previous study suggested that a specific compound, known as a flavonoid, was responsible for the beneficial brown-cotton trait.

USDA-ARS researchers combed through hundreds of genetic lines of white cotton previously developed for its superior genetics, searching for instances of the extinguishing behavior. They isolated five genetic lines that produced the least amount of heat when burned, and created non-woven fabrics from each of them. When subjected to flammability testing, four out of five fabrics self-extinguished, compared with a control strip of normal cotton, which burned completely.

While cotton breeding typically focuses on fiber and yield traits, with the goal of creating varieties that demonstrate higher quality, durability, herbicide tolerance and pest resistance, the researchers believe their finding could prove similarly commercially beneficial. “Breeding of inherently flame-resistant white cotton varieties has the potential to reduce the costs and impacts of use of flame-retardant chemicals, and benefit textile producers and consumers,” they wrote.