California Ban on Toxic Flame Retardants (PBDEs)
Posted by Norman Fong
California has a Ban on Toxic Flame Retardants (PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers) that took effect in 2011. These commonly found chemicals are toxic and accumulate in breast milk, harming kids development. Several other states have followed California. If you live in other states, you may want to verify this. House dust gets mixed in with PBDE’s, causing this chemical to spread.
Since 1975, manufacturers of furniture have treated their products with inexpensive flame retardant chemicals. Tobacco firms have even pushed for this treatment, preventing them from having to create a fire safe cigarette. These chemicals don’t really cut down on flammability. They cause toxic gasses and smoke to occur, which causes most fire deaths and injuries.
In 2005, some fire retardant chemicals were banned. A study in 2012 that appeared in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology by UC Berkeley and Duke University, found that toxic and untested flame retardants were present on most couches that they examined. These chemicals are linked to cancer and other health problems. It is literally almost impossible to buy furniture without flame retardants. Additionally, furniture with flame retardants are not required to be labeled.
Fire Master 550 is a flame retardant that is very popular now. It has been shown to cause endocrine disruption in animals. Its affect is unknown on humans.
This chemical has been used on car upholstery, mattresses, televisions, electronics, computers, and residential upholstered furniture in an effort to make items more safe during fires. So be sure to ask about this chemical when buying these items. The health effects are largely unknown but some studies have linked them to reduce motor skills and cognitive abilities in children, as well as fertility problems.
The California furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 mandated the use of these toxic chemicals. Warning labels maybe present on furniture, referring to this guideline.
Toxic Additives in Baby Products
A recent study by the Green Science Policy Institute in Berkeley found that 80% of baby products contained chemical flame retardants that are either known to be toxic or have not been tested.
A recent UC Berkeley study recently found that children in the Salinas Valley are contaminated with a high level of flame retardants, mainly from old furniture. Be careful when buying old furniture, especially if it’s falling apart.
You may find more labels like this on products that do not use PBDEs and do not meet fire safety standards.
California seeks to eliminate Toxic Flame Retardants
In June 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown sought to revise the 40 year old California regulation which caused furniture manufacturers to apply these toxic flame retardants. A recent investigative article in the Chicago Tribune found that a supporter of current furniture, fire regulations made up stories about small children dying due to fires. Additionally, the chemical and tobacco industry have been lobbying to maintain these toxic flame retardants.
Often times furniture makers don’t even know what type of chemicals are used in foam padding, due to trade secrets.
It is clear that change is needed in this area.
Precautions to Reduce Exposure
Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve touched furniture. Also have your kids wash their hands. Vacuum clean your floor often and use a mop to reduce dust.
Buy furniture that contains polyester, organic cotton, wool, polyester fiberfill or down. These are less likely to contain the toxic chemicals.
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