Flame retardants are chemicals meant to save human lives by delaying the combustion of products in a fire. They are widely used in a broad range of products from children's cribs, furniture, electronics and building insulation.
In the 1970's, regulations where set that required home furniture to be injected with chemicals including PBDE's hoping that these chemicals acting as flame retardants would be effective in reducing sofa fires. In reality, in 2012 it was found that these retardants actually didn't provide protection through an investigation by The Chicago Tribune through their series and highlighted in the documentary, 'Toxic Hot Seat.'
PBDE mixtures made up of less-brominated compounds are regarded as more dangerous because they bioaccumulate in animal tissues. These mixtures were banned by the European Union and were voluntarily removed from the U.S. market in 2004, but remain in the environment. Mixtures with more-brominated compounds remain in use in the U.S. but will be phased out by 2013, when new regulations become effective that will bring into play less toxic flame retardants in our home furnishings.
However, while these new standards, instigated by the state of California will create change nationwide, there is evidence that our bodies and those of our dogs will not be free of these chemicals, linked to cancer, reproductive and endocrine system problems and lower IQs in children, any time soon.
In 2011, Indiana University scientists, wrote about their findings, indicating they have found chemical flame retardants in the blood of pet dogs at concentrations five to 10 times higher than in humans.
Their study, "Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in their Food," appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and was authored by Marta Venier, an assistant research scientist in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Ronald Hites, a Distinguished Professor in SPEA.
Their study focused on the presence of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in the blood of dogs and in commercial dog food. Why test for the presence of PBDEs compounds in dog food?
PBEs can migrate out of their intended products and enter the environment in a variety of ways including;
"...contamination of food during processing or packaging and general contamination of the environment via emissions of PBDEs at various points of the life cycle of consumer products. As PBDE-containing products continue to degrade and enter the waste stream in larger amounts, future exposure to PBDEs may begin to shift more heavily from the indoor environment to the outdoor environment and, consequently, the diet (Harrad and Diamond 2006). This study highlights the need for research into the pathways of PBDEs into the food supply, particularly commercial animal products in the United States,' according to a study by the Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health.As you can see even though PBDEs have been banned in the US, there is evidence that these dangerous chemicals still permeate our lives and our dog's lives.
In addition, the Indiana University study also detected newer flame retardants that have come onto the market as PBDEs have been removed, including Dechlorane Plus, decabromodiphenylethane, and hexabromocyclododecane. These chemicals are currently and largely unregulated, but pose concerns because they are structurally similar to organic pollutants that have been linked to environmental and human health effects.
So what can you do to avoid PBDEs and other flame retardant chemicals for the health of your dog? The Environmental Working Group has some ideas:
1. Inspect foam items. Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen and breaking down. If you cannot replace these items try to keep the covers intact. Beware of older items like car seats and mattress pads where the foam is not completely encased in a protective fabric.
2. Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vaccuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and will likely remove more contaminants and other allergens from your home. HEPA-filter air cleaners may also reduce particle-bound contaminants in your house.
3. Do not reupholster foam furniture. Even those items without PBDEs might contain poorly studied fire retardants with potentially harmful effects.
4. Be careful when removing old carpet. The padding may contain PBDEs. Keep your work area isolated from the rest of your home. Clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and mop to pick up as many of the small particles as possible.
5. When purchasing new products ask the manufacturers what type of fire retardants they use. Avoid products with brominated fire retardants, and opt for less flammable fabrics and materials, like leather, wool and cotton. Be aware that "natural" or latex foam and natural cotton are flammable and require a fire retardant method that may contain toxic fire retardants.
Furniture complying with the new regulations beginning in 2014 will bear a tag that reads “TB 117-2013,” but that does not mean that furniture is free of flame retardants. For that information, consumers will have to ask retailers directly, and for retailers to know the answer, they will have had to make inquiries to manufacturers.
And for electronics: According to EWG, 'The form of PBDEs known as Deca is used in computer and television monitors; as well as other electronic products. Deca is not subject to any use restrictions, despite the fact that is has been detected at higher concentrations in children, and is toxic to animals. It has been shown to break down in to more toxic forms once it enters the environment.'
'When purchasing new products look for these brands, which have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba,' and more.
School of Environmental and Public Affairs, Indiana University
Environmental Working Group
National Law Review
Environmental Working Group PBDE Free Guide
Environmental Working Group TBBPA
Environmental Health Perspectives
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society Biological Sciences
Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health
Photos courtesy of:
Living in Monrovia