The argument over flame retardants is heating up, as an alliance of medical, consumer, and worker safety organizations have crafted a petition against flame retardants. The petition, put together by the Green Science Policy Institute and Earthjustice and backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Worksafe and other organizations, calls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban products that contain organohalogen flame retardants. It’s the first time an entire class of compounds has been petitioned against, as opposed to a single chemical, and while ambitious, this petition against flame retardants may set a new standard for chemical regulation in the United States.
What Are Flame Retardants?
Flame retardants are used to coat furniture, carpeting, mattresses, electronics, kid’s toys, and clothing with chemicals designed to resist flame and protect against fire. However, research has shown that flame retardants do much more harm than good.
For instance, the polyurethane foam in your couch cushion is likely treated with flame retardants, but these chemicals do not chemically bond to the foam. Rather, they escape into the environment, traveling on dust, outdoors, into rivers, and even into breast milk. And as for fire protection…the fabric of your sofa will catch the flame first, and by the time it reaches your flame-resistant cushion its blaze will be too strong to resist.
Flame retardants have been linked to memory problems, behavioral issues, infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays, lowered IQs, hormone disruption, and cancer, among other health conditions. They are also one of the 17 “high priority” chemical groups to avoid in order to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), banned in 1977 due to health concerns
- Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), replaced PCBs but has been phased out since 2005 due to the same health concerns
- Firemaster 550, replaced PBDEs but have since been implicated in heart disease, obesity, and cancer
- Tris phosphate (TDCIPP), a human carcinogen linked to heart disease, obesity, and cancer
- Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), shown to alter hormone levels, lower sperm concentrations, and interfere with proper endocrine function.
Are You at Risk?
The petition cites a CDC finding that measurable quantities of organohalogen flame retardants can be found in more than 97% of U.S. residents, and many people have more than six different types!
To reduce your exposure to flame retardants opt for organic and “green” clothing, kid’s products, furniture, cleaning and personal care products, and even building materials.
Most furniture made with polyurethane foam built before 2005 will contain PBDEs. Check for any rips or tears, and don’t reupholster the furniture yourself! To reduce PBDEs in your home environment invest in a HEPA-filter vacuum. If you are in the market for a mattress (one of the most heavily treated flame retardant household products) then consider investing in one made of 100% organic wool, which is naturally flame resistance, 100% organic cotton, or one made with Kevlar fabrics.