Fire retardants surround you every day. They’re in your car, couch, carpet padding, curtains, mattress, pillow, computer, TV, remotes, DVR, VCR, printer, office chair, hair dryer, kitchen appliances and on and on. A recent study by Friends of the Earth discovered 67% of all upholstered furniture tested in stores and 52% of furniture tested in domestic residences contained high levels of halogenated fire retardants by weight. Similar results were also found in baby products containing foam padding. But why the difference between the weight of halogenated fire retardants found in furniture still in the store versus your living room? It’s because as products age their fire retardants leach. They leach into the air and house dust and you breath them in. They stick to your children’s hands and toys and then they put their fingers in their mouth. Fire retardants are everywhere, and given their ubiquity they are in your blood and tissue. Guaranteed.

There are dozens of fire retardants on the market today but some of the most toxic are halogenated flame retardants, which are chemical compounds containing chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon. These chemicals don’t easily break down in the environment and are able to bioaccumulate (build up in animals and humans). Halogenated fire retardants have been linked to serious health disorders such as cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive dysfunction and learning disabilities such as ADHD, mental retardation, and hyperactivity. These facts, of course, are troubling for environmental groups, parents, and well…most people not associated with the chemical industry.

Similar concerns about fire retardants, and many other toxic chemicals, caused the European Union (EU) to establish REACH, a regulation program that deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances. The aim is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. Predictably the American and European Chemistry Councils (CEFIC) both lobbied hard against this regulation but fortunately they were unsuccessful and the law entered into force on June, 1 2007.

There are over 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States today but less than 200 have been tested for long-term safety. In the U.S. it is ultimately your responsibility to determine if a chemical is safe for you and your family’s use. The problem is that most people aren’t aware of where these chemicals lurch in their lives. Conversely, REACH regulation places greater responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to prove their safety before they enter the market. REACH is alive and well in the EU today, protecting their 500 million citizens from myriad toxic dangers. But if you live in the United States, who is protecting you?

There’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from toxins. Check out the Toxins category of our Blog for more ideas. In addition, here are some suggestions specifically regarding fire retardants.

Get Rid of Old Items Containing Foam – Foam products made before 2005 are more likely to contain highly toxic Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Production of these chemicals in the United States ceased in 2004 so newer items are likely to contain less harmful chemicals. If you are not able to get rid of these older items then you can cover them to better contain any fine particles that may leach into your home.

Buyer Beware – You can avoid many fire retardants by researching purchases of expensive items you plan to keep for a while such as furniture, bedding, appliances, and electronics. Call the manufacturer and ask questions. Be aware that alternatives that provide the degree of fire safety required under law without using organic compounds of bromine already exist. This includes some direct chemical substitutes as well as the use of alternative materials and even product redesign in order to reduce or eliminate the need for flame-retardant additives. For example, here are several major electronic companies that have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony Erissson, and Toshiba.

A Special Note on PJs: according to the Environmental Working Group fire-retardant pajamas are not treated with PBDEs. However, to avoid any chemicals in sleepwear and reduce the risk of igniting sleepwear, they suggest you choose natural fibers that are inherently fire resistant and snug-fitting.

-Clean, Clean, Clean – Vacuum your floors and furniture regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, especially areas where children and pets spend a lot of time. This goes for hardwood and vinyl floors as well. HEPA filters are designed to trap small particles and are a better solution for controlling allergies and toxic house dust than sweeping.

Speak Up – Americans have some of the highest levels of fire retardants chemicals in our bodies in the world with California leading the pack due to excessive fire safety laws. If this is a topic of concern for you then continue to educate yourself on the issues. Use your knowledge to educate others. Use your votes to ban toxic fire retardants from consumer products and reform fire safety laws. And use your dollars to support companies who are producing safer products for you and the environment.

If you found this blog useful you may also enjoy:

Protecting Yourself From Toxins – Part I – Meat, Poultry, Dairy

-Protecting Yourself from Toxins – Part II – Food Packaging

-Protecting Yourself From Toxins – Part III – Is Organic Worth It?

 

3 Responses to “Protecting Yourself From Toxins- Part IV – Fire Retardants In Your Blood – Guaranteed”

  1. Nanette Heffernan

    Toxic Roulette With Flame Retardants
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/flames/ct-met-flames-regulators-20120510,0,4262292.story

  2. Nanette Heffernan

    Flame Retardants Showing Up in Food
    http://news.discovery.com/human/health/flame-retardants-peanut-butter-120531.htm

  3. Nanette Heffernan

    An Environmental Catch-22. Fire Safety Chemical In Housing Insulation.
    http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2013/06/26/an-environmental-catch-22-fire-safety-chemicals-in-insulation-pose-risks/

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