Over the last thirty years, a series of brominated and chlorinated chemicals used as fire retardants has been banned by the federal and state governments. After assurances of safety from the chemical industry, these brominated and chlorinated fire retardant chemicals have been found to accumulate in children, the general population, workers, and wildlife. They are known to cause mutations, cancer, neurological, and/or reproductive problems. Given the availability of safer alternatives, banning these classes of toxic chemicals, instead of continuing to substitute one toxin for another, is just plain common sense. It is time to require chemical manufacturers to fully test their chemicals for effects on people’s health and the environment before putting flame retardants into our products and our bodies.
PentaBDE: PentaBDE is one of the most studied flame retardant chemicals and was used to meet California’s furniture flammability standard (known as TB 117) from the 1980s until 2004 when it was banned in Europe for its toxic properties and then “voluntarily withdrawn” in the U.S. Due to the long lifespan of furniture and baby products, many products containing PBDEs are still in use today.
Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP): Clorinated Tris was used in children’s pajamas in the 1970’s, but that use ended due to concerns that Tris may damage our genes. Despite this restriction, the chemical was never banned from other uses. When PentaBDE was “voluntarily withdrawn,” the industry needed a new chemical to meet the furniture flammability standard. Rather than searching for a safer alternative, they started using Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), the same chemical they had been forced to remove from children’s pajamas!
This is a textbook example of what CEH has dubbed the Toxic Shell Game, in which industry replaces a toxic chemical with another chemical that also makes people sick.
TDCPP is now one of the most commonly used flame retardant chemicals used products containing polyurethane foam. Like the chemicals it replaced, TDCPP has been found in places it shouldn’t be– in house dust, indoor air, breast milk, semen, urine, fish, food, and drinking water.
Firemaster 550: Firemaster 550 contains four major ingredients. According to a US EPA assessment, two are toxic to aquatic animals, one caused pregnancy loss and reduced fertility, and all four have been incompletely tested. A recent study found that Firemaster 550 disrupted the normal function of thyroid hormones and caused obesity. Like the other flame retardants, Firemaster 550 moves from our furniture into our environment and our bodies. Firemaster 550 has been found in dust and sewage sludge, marine mammals, and seven species in the Arctic.
TCEP: This flame retardant chemical has been identified as a carcinogen by the State of California.
TCPP: There is very little public data on the health effects of this flame retardant. One study showed that it caused genetic damage in studies of human cells. In tests with laboratory animals, TCPP changed the length of the menstrual cycle. Nevertheless, it is used in changing pads, car seats, and other baby products.
How Do These Chemicals Get Into Our Bodies?
Exposure to these chemicals occurs through breathing flame retardants after they evaporate into the air, ingestion and breathing in household dust contaminated with flame retardants, eating contaminated food, skin contact with the chemicals, or through occupational exposures for people who work around these chemicals. Because children frequently put their fingers in their mouths, kids ingest more than adults of what ends up on their hands, including flame retardant chemicals in dust. In fact, children carry on average three times the levels found in their mothers, according to a recent study from UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health. Newborns and infants can also be exposed through the placenta and breast milk.