Who knew that toxic flame retardants would be making headlines the way they are these days? There’s been so much new scientific research breaking on this class of chemicals and regulatory steps in the works, we thought it would be nice to summarize all that’s taken place in the last few weeks.
Let’s start with the good news:
State of California shows early signs of changing laws requiring the use of FR chemicals
In response to public concern (thank you for taking action, it worked!) California officials vowed to revise an old fire safety standard that could eliminate or drastically reduce the
use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in couches and children’s products. There is still much work to be done, but this is a great sign that public health protections are in the works.
The EPA announced its intent to assess 20 chemicals, with a focus on flame retardants
In a bold move the EPA announced they will assess twenty chemicals for safety, with a heavy emphasis on flame retardants. This is a great sign of leadership from the agency. Under our weak laws on toxic chemicals, the EPA wouldn’t have any authority to regulate these chemicals, further underscoring the need for Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act.
Vermont Senate passes strongest flame retardant ban with unanimous vote
State legislatures have been leading the way for safer chemicals, and this year eight states are working to restrict the use of toxic flame retardants in different products (with an emphasis on children’s products). The Vermont Senate just passed the nation's strongest law with a unanimous vote!
Science round-up on flame retardants:
Firefighters, cancer and flame retardants
In a pilot study, led by Dr. Susan Shaw, 12 firefighters were studied for their levels of cancer-causing chemicals including brominated flame-retardants and their combustion by-products.
These chemicals are found in the average American home in products like televisions, computers and other building materials. According to Shaw’s peer-reviewed study, the
firefighters had concentrations of a common flame retardant, PBDEs, at rates two to three times higher than those of other Californians and the general U.S. population.
Burning materials release the chemicals into the air, which were then inhaled by the firefighters. This pilot study opens the doors for more important research on the links between exposure of firefighters, cancer and toxic chemicals we’re exposed to everyday.
Exposure high in office environments
A new study conducted at the Boston
University School of Public Health discovered that the chemical once removed from children’s PJ’s in the 1970s (“chlorinated tris”) was found in 99% of office environments, with the levels being higher in older office buildings. The use of tris is most common in polyurethane foam and upholstered furniture.
Tris has been linked in peer-reviewed studies to neurological harm, hormone disruption and cancer. The study hypothesized that newer offices contained lower levels of tris either because the chemical didn’t have time to migrate out of the products, or newer flame retardants are used as instead. Early studies of the replacement chemical, called Firemaster 550, show concern for hormone-disruption, underscoring the drastic need for stronger laws on toxic chemicals. When will we get away from this silly game of chemical wack-a-mole?
Commercial airlines found 100 times the level of flame retardants in homes
New dust samples show drastically high levels of flame retardant chemicals used on commercial airlines. The study found that airline dust samples had over 100 times the levels of flame retardants when compared to studies dust in U.S. homes. The study raises questions about long-term health effects for airline personnel, but according to chemist Ake Bergman, “The additional exposure to the common passenger, occurring during travels, will be minimal.”
Replacement flame retardant shows early signs of trouble
We have seen it before, when one chemical is moved off the market, the industry replaces it with an equally toxic chemical. The newest flame retardant on the market called "Firemaster 550" was recently linked to weight gain, early puberty and anxiety in rats. This clearly shows the need for strong federal laws on toxic chemicals to move us away from this toxic treadmill!
So here we have it again. Toxic chemicals are entering our homes, workplaces and even commercial airlines. As one toxic chemical is removed, another one comes on the market.
Simply put, we need stronger laws on toxic chemicals to protect public health from these unnecessary exposures. We need your help to let Congress know that this is simply unacceptable! Please let your Senators know that you expect their support for the Safe Chemicals Act.
To follow Lindsay on Twitter: @Lindsay_SCHF