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Unsafe Levels of Flame Retardant Chemicals Common in US Homes

Posted Dec 29 2012 10:07pm
Posted on Dec. 28, 2012, 6 a.m. in Environment Brain and Mental Performance Cancer

Flame retardant chemicals are inescapably present in the everyday environment, from furniture to clothing to electronics and as “third hand” exposures via dust from these items.  Many flame retardants raise health concerns, including cancer, hormone disruption, and harmful effects on brain development, with infants and toddlers who spend much time on the floor at higher risk for exposure.  Robin Dodson, from Silent Spring Institute (Massachusetts, USA), and colleagues completed a peer-reviewed study of the largest number of flame retardants ever tested in homes found that most houses had levels of at least one flame retardant that exceeded a federal health guideline. The team tested for 49 flame retardant chemicals in household dust, the main route of exposure for people and especially for children. Forty-four flame retardant chemicals were detected and 36 were found in at least 50% of the samples, sometimes at levels of health concern. The highest concentrations were found for chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants. This chemical group includes TCEP and TDCIPP (or chlorinated "Tris"), which are listed as carcinogens under California's Proposition 65.  TDBPP (or brominated "Tris") was banned from children's pajamas in 1977 due to health concerns but is still allowed in other products, and was present in 75% of homes tested in 2011. There are no federal rules requiring that flame retardants be safety tested. Among the limited number of flame retardants with EPA health risk guidelines, the study found five at levels higher than those guidelines -- BDE 47, BDE 99, TCEP, TDCIPP and BB 153. The study authors warn that: “Results highlight the evolving nature of [flame retardant] exposures and suggest that manufacturers continue to use hazardous chemicals and replace chemicals of concern with chemicals with uncharacterized toxicity.”

Robin E. Dodson, Laura J. Perovich, Adrian Covaci, Nele Van den Eede, Alin C. Ionas, Alin C. Dirtu, et al.  “After the PBDE Phase-Out: A Broad Suite of Flame Retardants in Repeat House Dust Samples from California.”  Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (24), pp 13056–13066.

  
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