US Children Polluted With Toxic Fire Retardants: Part 1

March 16, 2009 | 4 Comments

Did you know that everyday baby and children’s products can contain high amounts of toxic fire retardants?

These flame retardants have been shown to cause serious health disorders including endocrine disruption, cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, reproductive and neurological disorders and learning disabilities such as ADHD, mental retardation, and hyperactivity.

Disturbingly enough, chemical fire retardants commonly hide in products that are in very close proximity to our babies and children:  mattresses, portable cribs, bassinets, infant carriers, strollers, walkers, backpack carriers, pillows, high chairs, play tent, baby/toddler seats and electronics.

I’ve been trying to avoid fire retardant since I was pregnant with my first child.  I believe that exposing my baby to these toxic chemicals do more harm than good. Unfortunately, it is quite a challenge to find safe alternatives, especially here in California where we have the strictest fire retardant laws in the country.

I naively believed that anything labeled with “organic cotton” (sofa, upholstered chair, bassinet, mattress, etc.) is automatically free of toxic (fire retardant) chemicals. Unfortunately, that is not true!

As required by state and federal safety standards mattresses, car seats and other products containing foam must meet stringent flame retardant standards.  So although there may be organic cotton in the product, the foam could be riddled with harmful chemicals!

A study released in October 2008 by the Silent Spring Institute found that Californians had twice the level of brominated fire retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in their blood as people in other states.¹

It’s been quite a challenge to find companies that are going the extra mile to find safer alternative to harmful chemical fire retardants. These companies who use a SAFE ALTERNATIVE (to these toxic fire retardants) CAN meet all flame resistant standards without exposing our children to harmful chemicals.

U.S. Children Among World’s Most Polluted with Fire Retardants

According to Friends of the Earth’s Killer Crib report of 2008, halogenated fire retardants bio-accumulate in fatty tissues over time and can travel from the mother’s body to the fetus. Once the baby is born, he or she undergoes further chemical exposure by ingesting these compounds through breast milk.

At most risk are babies, who are exposed in the womb, through breast-feeding, and from consistently touching everything and putting things into their mouths.  What’s shocking is that hundreds of chemicals are already stored in a newborn baby.

According to a study by the Environmental Working Group, young children in the U.S. are among world’s most polluted with fire retardants.² Their lab test revealed that:³

  • Levels of fire retardants in toddlers is three times higher than moms.

  • Total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children

  • 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers

  • Tests of umbilical cord blood also found PBDEs in 10 of 10 newborns

Fire Retardants in Breast Milk – US women 10 times level of European and Asian Women

The Environmental Working group did an earlier study in 2003 which made me wonder if breast milk was truly safer than formula.

Here is what the tests revealed:

  • The average level of bromine-based fire retardants in the milk of 20 first-time mothers was 75 times the average found in recent European studies.

  • Milk from two study participants contained the highest levels of fire retardants ever reported in the United States, and milk from several of the mothers in EWG’s study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide.

  • U.S. women have, on average, ten times the levels of fire retardant chemicals in their bodies compared to European or Asian women.

  • In Sweden, one of the first countries to reduce PBDE use, levels in breast milk have fallen 30 percent since 1997.

However, despite these scary studies, breastfeeding is still the best and healthiest way to feed your baby – the benefits are clearly outweighing the risks.

Types of Fire Retardants

There are three types of fire retardants:

  • Halogenated fire retardants
  • Brominated fire retardants
  • Chlorinated fire retardants

The most studied, and also known as the most toxic fire retardant chemicals are called PBDEs, a sub-class of Brominated fire retardants. PBDEs contains following 3 forms of chemicals:

  • Penta
    Used in furniture (sofa, chairs, carpet padding, mattresses and mattress pads), seating in cars-bus-plane-train, packaging materials, wood imitations.
  • Octa
    Used in computers, TV’s and other electronics, switches, cables, wires, smoke detectors.
  • Deca
    Used in housings of TVs, stereos, and other electronics, and in the backings for upholstery and curtains.

Fire Retardant Regulations In The US

Penta and Octa are no longer  produced in the U.S., not because the government banned them but because of a voluntary agreement with the EPA and the sole U.S. manufacturer (Great Lakes Chemical Corporation) to cease production of these chemicals at the end of 2004.

Deca is still produced in large quantities and accounts for most of the PBDE market. It is unsure if it’s less harmful and if it could break down into more dangerous chemicals because not enough studies have been done.

The European Union has banned the use of Penta, Octa and Deca, 3 forms of PBDE’s, in all products.  As usual their motto is “Better safe than sorry”!

Most of our homes, furniture and electronics are over 5 years old, so it’s very likely that they contain all three forms of PBDEs.  So even though Penta and Octa are no longer produced in the U.S., millions of pounds are still commonly found in our homes, offices, vehicles and disposal sites due to extensive use in consumer products.5

Also, we can’t really say that we got rid of the most toxic chemical fire retardants by eliminating Penta and Octa. Penta in foam was replaced with newer poorly studied bromine-containing fire retardants. Will we find out in 10 years from now that these chemicals are even worse than the banned PBDEs?

Apparently, manufacturers and retailers are not required to disclose whether PBDEs are in their products and who knows what kind of toxic fire retardants are used in imported products,  so there’s no sure way to tell if a piece of furniture or other item contains the most toxic fire retardants.

Ikea is one of the companies I know who does not use PBDE and I am sure the companies who are responding to your question promptly (regarding their use of, and types of, fire retardants) are more trustworthy than companies who do not want to respond back.

Furniture imported from Europe need to follow the stricter EU standards, and have to be PBDE free.

In which States are Penta and Octa banned?

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

In which States are Deca Banned?

  • Maine
    (Use in furniture and mattresses banned starting January, 2008 and ban on Deca use in electronics to take effect in 2010.)
  • Washington
    (Bans use of Deca in mattresses starting in 2008 and in furniture and electronics to take effect by 2011 provided safer alternatives can be found.)

Electronic Waste Containing Toxic Fire Retardants

PBDE flame retardants and other toxic chemicals are turning up in high levels in soils near electronic waste (e-waste) recycling centers and becoming a major environmental concern. The U.S. EPA estimates that between 2000 and 2007, 500 million computers will become obsolete in the U.S.

As an alternative to overpacking landfills or recycling domestically, some industrialized countries have found it more convenient and cheaper to export e-waste to developing countries, such as China and India, where labor costs are low, and occupational and environmental laws are lax or not well implemented.

You have to see this eye opening report by 60 minutes! Honestly, this will change the way you think and consume.  Please forward this post to friends and family, this is something we all need to be aware of.

It’s so upsetting to see this! Thinking that bringing your electronics to recycling center will keep these toxic chemicals away from our children and the environment – but this is unfortunately not the case!  Instead, we see a community of people who live in toxic conditions we would never dare to dream of our world looking like.

CBS: The Wasteland

Watch CBS Videos Online

E-Waste Facts that Blew Us Away

Inside electronics like our computers hides lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and poly vinyl chloride.
All of these components are known to cause brain damage, kidney disease, mutations, and cancers.

E-waste is the fastest growing component of this toxic wasteland:

* We throw out about 130,000 computers everyday in the United States alone!
* We throw out over 100,000,000 cell phones every year.

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part post….

READ OUR NEXT POST WHICH OFFERS TIPS ON WAYS TO REDUCE EXPOSURE TO TOXIC FIRE RETARDANTS.

Links

EWG’s Study: Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers

Friends of the Earth Killer Crib Report

Footnotes
1 http://www.silentspring.org/
2
3
4 http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/pbde.asp
5http://www.ewg.org/node/26976
6 http://www.ewg.org/pbdefree

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Category: 0-1 yr, 1-3 yrs, 3-5 yrs, 5+ yrs, Development, Environment, Fire Retardants, Indoor Air Pollution, News, Nursery, Organic Cotton

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  • http://www.glutenfreewholefoods.blogspot.com Ali (Whole Life Nutrition)

    Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for this informative post. My husband and I just watched the 60 minutes clip, I was not aware of that. This is a great site, I just came upon it on a google search.

    Thanks again, Ali :)

  • http://erinnewmanlong.blogspot.com erin

    What about car seats? Where can I find a safe(er) car seat?

  • http://safbaby.com Jennifer

    We just found out that our 3 year old has toxic levels of antimony(flame retardant) that are causing her numerous health problems and costing us thousands of dollars!! I now have to replace every piece of bedding, mattress, and all of her and her siblings pjs with plain cotton t-shirts. She has to undergo chelation therapy to recover. At least we were able to find out what was causing her illness. Most people cannot afford the medical testing needed to diagnose the causes for her autism/neurological problems.

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