The Flame Retardants family is full of contradiction and mystery. On the one hand, they slow fires. On the other hand, their presence in everyday items like couch cushions has been linked to cancer and learning problems. They are brave, yet clingy — scientists can measure their residue in human bodies years after exposure. Most intriguing characteristic? Some branches of the family have been restricted, yet other equally toxic cousins are still on the loose.
By Dr. Mercola
Your couch cushions, your child’s car seat, your carpeting, and your mattress all have a toxic secret in common.
They probably contain flame-retardant chemicals that have been linked to serious health risks like cancer, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays in children, and more.
How these chemicals have grown to become so ubiquitous is a story of great deception, power and greed, with the chemical industry and Big Tobacco at the helm. As reported in an investigative series “Playing With Fire” by the Chicago Tribune:1
“The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products.
Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.”
Eight Facts About Flame Retardants That Might Shock You
HBO recently aired a documentary, Toxic Hot Seat, which is based on the Chicago Tribune’s comprehensive investigation. You can watch the trailer above. The film highlights some of the most disturbing facts about flame-retardant chemicals, which were summed up by Rodale News.2 As you read through them, you’ll see how the use of flame-retardant chemicals is easily among the major toxic cover-ups in the US.
1. Studies Have Proven Their Harm
It’s estimated that 90 percent of Americans have some level of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and the chemicals are also known to accumulate in breast milk.
This alone is highly disturbing because many studies have linked them to human health risks including infertility, birth defects, lower IQ scores, behavioral problems in children, and liver, kidney, testicular, and breast cancers.
2. Flame Retardants Produce More Toxic Smoke
If an object doused in flame retardants catches fire (yes, they can still catch fire), it gives off higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than untreated objects. Ironically, these three things are more likely to kill a person in a fire than burns, which means flame-retardant chemicals may actually make fires more deadly.
Flame-retardant chemicals belong to the same class of chemicals as DDT and PCBs (organohalogens), and like the former, they, too, build up in the environment. These chemicals also react with other toxins as they burn to produce cancer-causing dioxins and furans.
3. Banned from Children’s Pajamas but Still Widely Used in Furniture and Baby Products
A flame-retardant chemical known as chlorinated tris (TDCPP) was removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s amid concerns that it may cause cancer, but now it’s a ubiquitous addition to couch cushions across the United States.
It can easily migrate from the foam and into your household dust, which children often pick up on their hands and transfer into their mouths. Tris is actually the most commonly used flame retardant in the US today, used in nap mats, car seats, strollers, nursing pillows, furniture, and more.
4. Female Fire Fighters in California Have Six Times More Breast Cancer
Female firefighters aged 40 to 50 are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than the national average, likely due to California’s early use of flame-retardant chemicals. Firefighters of both genders also have higher rates of cancer, in part because of the high levels of dioxins and furans they’re exposed to when flame-retardant chemicals burn.
According to one firefighter in the HBO documentary:3“It's Love Canal, and it's on fire… These fires that we're going to now are an absolute toxic soup.”
5. Flame-Retardant Chemicals Provide No Benefit for People
The chemical industry claims that fire-retardant furniture increases escape time in a fire by 15-fold. In reality, this claim came from a study using powerful, NASA-style flame retardants, which did give an extra 15 seconds of escape time.
This is not the same type of chemical used in most furniture, and government and independent studies show that the most widely used flame-retardant chemicals provide no benefit for people while increasing the amounts of toxic chemicals in smoke.
Drops in fire-related deaths in recent decades are not related to the use of flame-retardant chemicals, but instead are due to newer construction codes, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and self-extinguishing cigarettes.
6. Big Tobacco Was Instrumental in the Spread of Flame-Retardant Chemicals
Flame-retardant chemicals were developed in the 1970s, when 40 percent of Americans smoked and cigarettes were a major cause of fires. The tobacco industry, under increasing pressure to make fire-safe cigarettes, resisted the push for self-extinguishing cigarettes and instead created a fake front group called the National Association of State Fire Marshals. The group pushed for federal standards for fire-retardant furniture…
7. California’s Misguided Fire Safety Law Led to Countrywide Use of These Toxic Chemicals
In 1975, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) was passed. It requires furniture sold in California to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small flame without igniting. Because of California's economic importance, the requirement has essentially become a national standard, with manufacturers dousing their furniture with the chemicals whether they're going to be sold in California or elsewhere in the States. As reported by Rodale News:
“Sadly, though the original author of TB117 had specifically included language requiring that any chemical used to make furniture fire resistant be safe for human health, politicians removed that language before the law went into effect.”
8. The Chemical Industry Has Spent Millions to Keep TB117 in Place
Numerous bills in California have been introduced that would update TB117 to state that toxic chemicals were no longer required for furniture, but the deep-pocketed chemical industry has defeated them each time. The industry even went so far as to hire Dr. David Heimback, a burn expert and star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants, told the tragic story of a 7-week-old baby who was burned in a fire and died as a result, three weeks later, after suffering immensely. The fire was said to have been started by a candle that ignited a pillow that lacked flame retardant chemicals, where the baby lay.
The story was heard by California lawmakers, who were deciding on a bill that could have reduced the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture. The problem, as we detailed in a previous article, was that the entire story was a clever hoax, a complete fabrication, from beginning to end!