In this short video by Green Science Policy Institute, you'll discover how flame retardants are one of six classes of chemicals found in consumer products that negatively affect your health. While adding chemicals to slow fire ignition may have begun with good intentions, the chemicals are worse than ineffective — they are dangerous.
If they were effective, their strongest supporters would be firefighters. Yet, this population is among the strongest opponents of adding fire retardant chemicals to products. As demonstrated in the video, when treated furniture burns, it releases a greater amount of toxic smoke than untreated furniture.
Fire retardants also create a health burden in everyday use as the chemicals leach from products and land in household dust. Until 2004, the primary chemical was from a family of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) with 209 possible brominated substances.1
By 2013, octaBDEs used in business equipment made from plastic were voluntarily withdrawn. However, the replacement chemicals, namely organophosphorus compounds, have some of the same health risks and behave similarly in the environment.
UK Is Losing EU Health Protections
Brexit,2 the term used to describe the British exit from the European Union, was formalized on January 31, 2020. However, the exit from the economic and political union binding 28 European countries together has been far from smooth.
The BBC reports there are months of negotiations ahead to decide what a future relationship might look like between the U.K. and the remaining countries. George Monbiot, environmentalist and columnist for The Guardian,3 raises concerns that the disruption during the exit is distracting the media and the public from the destruction of public protections that are happening.
His biggest concern is flame retardant chemicals: “Since the 1990s, most of the deaths and injuries inflicted by fires in the U.K. have been caused not from burns, but by inhaling toxic smoke.” He references a recent environmental audit by Parliament:4
"Breast Cancer UK suggests the US and UK have the highest levels of flame retardants in human body fluids. Legacy polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are in breast milk in the highest concentrations in women in the US and UK."
Until 2016, Terry Edge5 was the U.K.'s leading expert in Furniture and Furnishings Fire Safety regulations. At that time, he blew the whistle6 on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
In 2014, a match test proved 90% of the furniture in the U.K. is ignitable and the number of lives saved are completely unfounded. Edge writes that even if assumptions are correct:7
“… it requires around 6 million kgs of flame retardant chemicals to possibly save just one life from fire.
Research published in Chemosphere in December 2017, proves that a treated UK sofa is more dangerous than an untreated EU sofa, because any escape time afforded by flame retardants (and that is far less than the FR industry claims) is greatly outweighed by the huge amounts of toxic smoke, including hydrogen cyanide, that is produced very soon after a UK sofa ignites.”
The Environmental Audit Committee8 of the British House of Commons published a report in summer 2019, which began to get media attention before the challenges with Brexit pushed public health concerns to the back burner.
Fire Retardant Exposure Described as ‘Ubiquitous’
Once PBDEs were phased out in the U.S.,9 manufacturers began using organophosphate ester flame retardants (OPFRs). Researchers10 compared OPFRs with PBDEs across a range of properties, including interactions in the environment, indoor levels of the chemicals and evidence of adverse health effects from both.
They found OPFRs are ubiquitous and accumulate in the environment at higher concentration levels than PBDEs. In the review of 100 peer-reviewed studies, scientists found OPFRs are at levels 10 to 100 times higher in the water, air and dust than were PBDEs. In addition, they were also found in nearly every person who participated in the research study.
Data from several studies show the levels were high enough to negatively affect brain development in children and fertility in adults. Scientists expected OPFRs would be less persistent than PBDEs, but predicting their presence is difficult to measure based on the compounds’ physical and chemical properties.
OPFRs have a higher vapor pressure and shorter half-life which led the experts to believe they would travel shorter distances and have a lower concentration. However, they're more soluble in water and persist in an aqueous solution. Measurements throughout the world have found higher levels of OPFRs in areas as remote as the North and South poles, as well as in urban areas.
These measurements have also confirmed OPFRs in locations that could not be explained by a local release. The chemicals are used heavily in the electronics industry and are detected at higher levels indoors. The application of OPFRs was identified by researchers as a “regrettable substitution,” or a replacement that lacked sufficient toxicity testing for a chemical being phased out as a known hazardous material:11
“Regrettable substitution occurs because of the difficulty of changing industrial processes and a lack of toxicological information, causing manufacturers to replace a phased-out chemical with a ‘drop in’ substitute chemical that has a similar structure, function, and potential for harm.”
Most Common Thyroid Cancer Linked to Flame Retardants
The most common and aggressive type of thyroid cancer is papillary thyroid cancer (PTC). Researchers have found there's a link between exposure to flame retardants in the home and the development of PTC.
In one study12 researchers set out to test whether higher exposure was associated with a higher risk of PTC. They enrolled patients at Duke Cancer Institute and evaluated the correlation between flame retardants found in household dust and PTC. What they found suggested exposure in the home was associated with both a higher risk and increased severity of the disease.
A commentary in Nature stressed the importance of analyzing the effects flame retardants have as chemical mixtures, as this is the “most physiologically relevant situation given the reality of current exposures to multiple chemicals.”13 The commentary continued:
"… exposure to flame retardants is strongly associated with thyroid hormone-related neurodevelopmental disorders in the United States …" and "Many flame retardants have chemical structures similar to those of thyroid hormones and have been implicated in dysfunction of thyroid hormone homeostasis, such as altered thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and iodine transport."
The information that flame-retardant chemicals are dangerous, disrupt the hormone system and are linked to the development of cancer is well-established and accepted by everyone except the chemical industry. You’ll find more information on this topic in my previous article, “Thyroid Cancer Rates Are Skyrocketing From Flame Retardants.”
Half of Firefighters Believe Cancer Larger Risk Than Fire
Firefighters are charged with entering a burning building to save lives and to limit property damage. But the danger becomes greater when burning flame retardant chemicals create toxic fumes.
San Francisco has the largest percentage of female firefighters on their force, making up 16% of the entire force. In 2018, 15% of the women ages 40 to 50 had “been diagnosed with breast cancer, which is six times the national average.”
In the last 10 years, more than 250 men and women in the San Francisco Fire Department have died from some form of cancer. The fire department believes this increase is the result of the burning of synthetic materials that is exposing firefighters to dangerous fumes. In addition, Jeanine Nicholson, Deputy Chief of administration for the San Francisco Fire Department, said to NBC News:14
"Cancer is a concern for the San Francisco Fire Department as well as the fire service nationwide. But in San Francisco, we have seen and we do have numbers of elevated cancer rates for male and female firefighters. And we have a lot of flame retardants in furniture that are toxic and are toxic to you and your family as well as to firefighters.
So you'll have these flame retardants in your bloodstream just as we do. We just have it in higher rates. I always think of it as there's a cancer sniper out there in the fire service. And it's not when. It's not if. It's who's gonna be next? What woman in the San Francisco Fire Department is gonna get breast cancer next?"
Chronic exposure places firefighters at greater risk for all cancers. The leaders of two statewide surveys of 1,300 active firefighters in Ohio found that about half believed cancer was their greatest occupational risk, up from 5% surveyed 10 years before.15
Cities and states are taking steps to protect the men and women who protect their citizens, but the movement is slow. In 2019, Massachusetts failed to pass a bill banning flame retardants despite a push from lawmakers and pediatricians.16 The legislator who originally carried the bill to ban the retardants died of brain cancer at 66, himself a firefighter.
In Minnesota,17 the story was different as the governor signed a bill into law in May 2019 that would ban certain flame-retardant chemicals. As of January 2019, San Francisco banned the sale of flame-retardant furniture18 and in March that same year, an ordinance was passed in Anchorage, Alaska, with a unanimous vote prohibiting specific products with flame retardant chemicals.19
While the movement is slowly making its way through the U.S., it is important to remember that the ban is on new sales, which means anything sold before the ban will still be a potential health hazard in your home.
Reduce Your Exposure to Flame Retardants
Fire retardant chemicals are also found in drinking water and local bodies of water. It is important to reduce your exposure. Consider the options discussed in “Fire Retardant Chemicals Are Contaminating Drinking Water Across the U.S.” and those listed below:
- When purchasing items, ask if there is an option without flame retardants
- Avoid upholstered furniture with a TB117 label
- To reduce your exposure, clean and dust with a damp cloth to trap the dust, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and wash your hands, especially before eating
- Avoid purchasing foam carpet padding unless you’re sure it doesn't contain flame retardants
Source: mercola rss