Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The 5 Worst Things about Flame Retardants

The 5 Worst Things about Flame Retardants

Link to Dr. Group's Healthy Living blog

The 5 Worst Things about Flame Retardants

Posted: 23 Dec 2014 07:00 AM PST


Not long ago, I discussed 12 ways toxins are sneaking into your life, and while I briefly mentioned the health dangers of flame-retardants, that was just the tip of the iceberg. There's been a lot of talk lately about these chemicals: namely, that they don't work as well as claimed. There's even data suggesting that items treated with flame retardants and those untreated tend to burn at the same rate. So what benefits, if any, are these chemicals providing for us? [1] Well, they're certainly not helping, and here are 5 of the absolute worst things about them.

1. Cancer Risk

For years, studies have suggested that flame retardant chemicals cause cancer. The most recent study in October 2014 tested healthy Americans for the presence of six chemicals. Flame retardant toxins were found in the blood and urine of all the subjects. [2] One of the toxins, TCEP has never even been seen in the US! Another toxin, chlorinated Tris, was once used to treat pajamas. Evidence came out in the 1970s linking it to DNA mutations and cancer risks, so it was removed from the pajamas. Unfortunately, it has still been used to treat furniture foam. As many of us are exposed to these poisons as they're inside the furniture, this is cause for concern.

2. Environmental Concerns

Once flame-retardants are in our environment, like most pollutants, they tend to stay there. They're even getting into the bodies of certain gulls. Since these birds aren't eating furniture, the toxins have to be coming from another source, right? In this case, it's infected fish. So how then are those fish becoming toxic? The answer points to one unlikely source–our laundry. These toxins, once in your house, tend to travel around in dust. [3] Dust gets on clothes, clothes are washed, and the water from the laundry machine becomes runoff, eventually filtering into our ecosystem. A recent study actually looked at laundry waste water samples and found 18 different flame-retardants.

3. In Our Furniture, In Our Home

A Duke University study looked at the urine samples of 22 women and 26 children and found evidence of exposure to the flame retardant TDCPP in all of them; another found that 85% of couch cushions contain some form of flame retardant. [4] [5] As the most common application is in the foam of mattresses, sofas, pillows, and carpet padding, it's not really a question of if you will be exposed, but when. Currently, only California requires products containing TDCPP and other flame-retardants to have warning labels. Here's hoping other states follow suit.

4. Contribute to Obesity

Introduced in 2003, Firemaster 550 (FM550) was originally meant to serve as an alternative for the toxic pentabromodiphenyl ether. There's recent evidence, however, that exposure to this supposedly safer flame retardant not only contributes to fat production, but also speeds up bone loss. [6] Remember how I mentioned that flame-retardants often travel in dust? Well, these dust-borne toxins can be inhaled at an alarming rate. In addition to hormone disruption and cancer risk, FM550 also brings the threat of obesity and osteoporosis.

5. Leukemia Risk

All flame-retardants can be toxic to your health, but I want to focus on one more group. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are no longer made or used in the US due to an increased risk of liver, thyroid, and neuro-developmental issues; however, they can still be found in imported products or older US-manufactured products. As with all flame-retardants, PBDE persists in the environment as well. Clearly, PBDE is a lingering threat, and rightly so. In addition to all the health concerns connected to these chemicals, a recent study even suggests a link to leukemia. [7]

One Final Thought

With all the terrible news surrounding flame retardants, is there any hope? Senator Charles Schumer offers a glimmer with his proposed ban on 10 flame retardants in children's products. What do you think about these chemicals? Should they be banned outright, or are people like Senator Schumer moving us in the right direction? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM


  1. Natural Resources Defense Council. Toxic Chemicals in our Couches. NRDC Fact Sheet.
  2. Silent Spring Institute. A Previously Unrecognized Flame Retardant Found in Americans for the First Time. Silent Spring Institute
  3. Schreder, E. Flame Retardant Transfers from U.S. Households (Dust and Laundry Wastewater) to the Aquatic Environment.. Environmental Science & Technology 48 (19), 11575-11583.
  4. Stapleton, H. et al. Metabolites of Organophosphate Flame Retardants and 2-Ethylhexyl Tetrabromobenzoate in Urine from Paired Mothers and Toddlers.. Environmental Science & Technology 48 (17), 10432-10438.
  5. Stapleton, H. et al. Novel and High Volume Use Flame Retardants in US Couches Reflective of the 2005 PentaBDE Phase Out.. Environmental Science & Technology 46 (24), 13432-13439.
  6. Wendee, N. More Fat, Less Bone? Environmental Health Perspectives. 122 (11).
  7. Tillett, T. Zeroing In on a Risk Factor? PBDE Exposure and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Environmental Health Perspectives. 122 (10).

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