I want to shine some light on cancer from a major source you’ve never heard of. They are in nearly everything that you use every day. This includes couch cushions, carpeting, mattresses, children’s items, electronics and yoga mats. They go by the name of flame retardant chemicals or PFR’s. Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks. These risks include infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays, behavior problems in children, reduced IQ, hormonal disruptions, and cancer.
Polyurethane foam, gym mats and baby items including car seats contain Organophosphate flame retardants (PFR’s). The purpose of PFR’s is to reduce the risk of these items catching fire. However, the chemicals do not stay embedded in these items. They spread, contaminating the air and dust. They can also spread through direct contact. Furthermore, PFR’s are one of 17 “high priority” chemical groups to avoid to reduce breast cancer diagnosis. To make matters worst these chemicals are also poisoning your pets and wildlife.
Contrary to claims that these chemicals are necessary, there’s hardly any evidence to agree with the argument that they work. However, the opposite has shown to be true. These chemicals, PFR’s, do in fact make house fires more dangerous, especially for firefighters repeatedly exposed to these toxic fumes. If flame retardant chemicals worked, you can surely believe that firefighters would be one of the strongest and foremost supporters of these chemicals. But they are NOT. Firefighters are some of the strongest and vocal opponents of PFR’s. They strongly support the claim that flame retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks.
Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks
The strong distaste for these chemicals isn’t solely the fact they don’t work but that they’re also highly toxic. An item treated with PFR’s can still catch fire. When it does, it will give off higher levels of toxic carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than an untreated item. Unfortunately, female firefighters (40 – 50 years old) in California are 6x more likely to develop breast cancer than non-firefighters. So are men. Both have higher rates of cancer than the national average. The exposure to consistently higher levels of dioxins and furans from flame retardant chemicals being on fire is responsible. Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks. To firefighters in California that risks name is cancer.
What puts California firefighters at such a high risk? The answer to that starts with TB and ends with 117. The state of California passed Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) in 1975. It required for furniture sold in California to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small flame without igniting. The easiest and cheapest way for manufacturers to meet this requirement was to douse furniture in flame retardant chemicals.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants
Over 80,000 chemicals are used in household goods and furnishings, and the overwhelming majority of them have NOT been tested for safety. As a result, it’s pointless if not impossible to compile a list of items to avoid. It’s basically the wild wild west as far as protecting yourself and family from these toxic chemicals. Therefore the best recommendation is to support organic or “green” alternatives no matter what the product is you’re considering buying. With that said, the following are a few rules to live by that will help you reduce your exposure to flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to serious health risks:
Identify and replace hazardous furniture
Polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, including sofas, chairs, mattresses, and pillows are likely to contain PBDEs. Carefully inspect such items and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down. Avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself, however, as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure.
Pay attention to “wrinkle-free” claims. Most of the time this means the product contains risky perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Chemicals added to bedding to increase softness and/or help prevent shrinkage may also emit formaldehyde gas.
If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free by scientists at Duke University’s Superfund Research Center. This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing.
Take precautions when removing old carpeting
Older carpet padding is another major source of PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. You’ll want to isolate your work area from the rest of your house to avoid spreading it around and use a HEPA filter vacuum to clean up.
Wash your hands after handling fireproofed items produced before 2013
You may have older sources of the PBDEs known as Deca in your home as well. They are so toxic that they have banned in several states, including Vermont, Washington, Oregon, and Maine. In 2009, the two U.S. makers of DecaPBDE voluntarily agreed to stop producing and importing the chemical for all uses by 2013.32 However, many items made before then would contain it.
DecaPBDE is prevalent in electronics including TV and cellphone casings, kitchen appliances, fans, toner cartridges and more. You should wash your hands immediately after handling such items, especially before eating. At the very least make don’t let infants mouth any of these items (like your TV remote control or cellphone).
Keep your home dust-free
Flame retardant chemicals are common in household dust. Make sure you clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.
Select safer replacement products
As you replace items containing flame retardants, look for items that clearly state they’re “flame retardant free” or select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool, and cotton. This is particularly important for items you sit or sleep on for many hours each day.
Replace your mattress and/or yoga mat
Consider buying a mattress made of either 100 percent organic wool, which is naturally flame-resistant, 100 percent organic cotton or flannel, or Kevlar fibers. There are quite a few good options available in the marketplace. Look for Stearns and Foster for the latter type of mattress. Instead of your rubber yoga mat try using a cotton rug, runner or woven yoga mat.
The fact that flame retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks and they’re everywhere doesn’t mean you are helpless. The best and most effective thing to do is to support organic or “green” alternatives no matter what the product is you’re considering buying.