We send out this short piece on flame retardants to explain why they are dangerous, where they are in our environment, and why Environment and Human Health, Inc. is working on a project to change the policy to better protect the public's health from exposures to them. "In 1977, The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced the ban of children's pajamas containing the flame-retardant commonly known as Tris because it was carcinogenic. The pajama use of Tris was banned - but unbelievably, it is still being used today in baby products such as nursing pillows, car-seats, crib mattresses, high-chairs, etc." Flame retardants have become ubiquitous in our environment.
Nancy Alderman, President, Environment and Human Health, Inc. http://www.ehhi.org http://ehhijournal.org
1191 Ridge Road, North Haven, CT 06473 (phone) 203-248-6582
Recent research suggests that chemicals used as flame-retardants are rapidly building up in the bodies of people and wildlife around the world. The concentrations of these chemicals in tissues appear to be approaching levels in American women that could harm the developing nervous systems of fetuses, infants and children.
In the United States there has been no action to regulate flame-retardants in a way that would protect human health, and instead their use continues to rise. About half of the 135 million pounds of flame-retardants used worldwide in 2001 were applied to products in North America.
Scientists who specialize in human tissue body burdens say that they haven't seen a chemical build up in human bodies and the environment as quickly as that of some flame-retardants in almost half a century. The flame-retardants are as potent and long lasting as PCB's and DDT- chemicals that began to accumulate in the environment and human tissues in the 1950's and were banned in the 1970's. Even if many flame-retardants were banned today, they would endure in the environment for decades.
In 1977, The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced the ban of children's clothing containing the flame-retardant commonly known as Tris because it was carcinogenic. The pajama use of Tris was banned - but unbelievably, it is still being used today in baby products that are made with polyurethane foam - such as nursing pillows, car-seats, crib mattresses, high-chairs, etc. To be exposing our smallest children is truly outrageous..
Animal studies have shown that flame-retardants affect thyroid hormone functions and can impair the developing central nervous system and brain. In 1999, Swedish researchers discovered much greater amounts in human breast milk than had been detected twenty-five years earlier. Subsequent studies have found an even sharper rise in U.S. women, leading some researchers to conclude that flame retardants levels in North Americans are 10 to 20 times higher than in Europeans and are doubling at a rate of every four to six years. This has raised concern among many scientists and environmental health advocates.
Flame-retardants can cross the placenta, exposing the fetus. Infants are also exposed to flame-retardants through breast milk. Children take in flame-retardants from many sources and these will persist in their bodies though adulthood.
Researchers say the effects on children are likely to be subtle - not mental retardation or disability, but measurable changes in children's intelligence, memory hyperactivity and hearing. "We're concerned about learning and memory and some behavioral effects and hearing loss," Birnbaum said.
Dr. Linda Birnbaum, the EPA's director of toxicology, said, "there is no question that the chemicals are altering thyroid hormones. Altering thyroid hormones during fetal development can affect how the brain functions."
What disturbs scientists the most are that some flame-retardants have striking similarities to PCB's which were widely used as insulating fluids in electrical transformers until they were banned in the 1970's because they were collecting in the tissues of people and wildlife.