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Toxic Dust Bunnies: Environmental Health, Safety Threats from PBDEs

Posted Oct 08 2009 10:00pm

Bodytoxic_pbk Part 2 - by Nena Baker, author, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

"Thirty years ago, about the time that PBDEs were introduced, veterinarians began noticing an uptick in feline hyperthyroidism, the most common endocrine disorder in cats.

It causes rapid weight loss and leads to secondary problems with the heart and digestive system, greatly diminishing an animal’s quality of life. Notably, the disease is associated with cats who live indoors. Birnbaum and her research team wondered: Could the epidemic of thyroid disease in cats be associated with PBDEs in house dust?

Their 2007 pilot study showed the PBDE exposures in older cats with hyperthyroidism were three times higher than the levels in younger cats without it. Birnbaum told me that more studies are needed to pin down a correlation between PBDEs and feline hyperthyroidism, but that it makes sense to study chronic PBDE exposure in cats because they share the same environment with humans. Moreover, as the study notes, cats and humans are the only mammals that have a high incidence of hyperthyroidism.

With some scientists describing PBDEs as the “PCBs of the 21st century,” the makers of PBDEs voluntarily ceased making two of the three commercial mixtures of these flame retardants at the end of 2004. But the most widely produced PBDE – commonly known as “Deca” – continues to be manufactured for use primarily in electronics.  Three states – Washington, Maine and Oregon – have passed Deca bans, and other states are considering them.

On September 29, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that PBDEs are among six chemicals the EPA has targeted for priority review and possible regulation. But because of the way all types of PBDEs were used in big-ticket items that consumers keep for years and years, these toxic chemicals will continue to build up in the dust of homes and offices for the foreseeable future.

So, to minimize toxic dust bunnies in my own home:

* I vacuum at least twice a week using a machine with a high-quality filter.

* I also recommend avoiding contact with crumbling old foam from carpet padding, old mattress pads and stuffed furniture.

* If you can’t replace the items, tightly tape over the tears or rips.

*  Isolate an area when replacing old carpet padding so you don’t spread the dust.

* When shopping, look for PBDE-free electronics and furniture.

PBDEs should not be in mattresses, couches and other foam products produced in 2005 or later. However, they are still put into some new electronics. If you’re not sure if a product contains PBDEs, contact the manufacturer and ask.

Don' t miss Part I of this article. For more information, read The Body Toxic by Nena Baker.

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