Recently, the state of Maryland passed a law banning flame retardants. I saw the news and happily shared the information on my Instagram stories, and realized that me celebrating a flame retardant ban may seem a bit random or odd. Before my MPH in Environmental Health Science, I could not have cared less about flame retardants. I probably never even gave them a second thought.
But, after learning lots about them, I grew passionate about reducing my personal exposure, and informing others about flame retardants and how to avoid them. So, here is some information about flame retardants! I hope you find it interesting. Feel free to leave comments or questions at the end of the post, or reach out to me on social media. Enjoy!
What are flame retardants?
Flame retardants are chemicals that were designed to prevent fire or slow its spread. They are often added to or applied to many products, including furniture, mattresses, curtains, carpets, blinds, electronics like laptops, phones, TVs, remotes, household appliances, wires and cables, building and construction materials, and transportation products like seats and seat covers and other parts of airplanes and trains.
There are several classes of flame retardants. Persistent brominated flame-retardants (PBDEs) are a common class of flame retardants that gained popularity in the 1970s when manufacturers began adding them to furniture, electronics, and other materials to meet certain flammability standards.
In a time where cigarette-induced couch fires were common, and people often fell asleep smoking in bed, the use of flame retardants was pushed by the tobacco industry, so that they could avoid creating a fire-safe cigarette and maintain sales.
Because flame retardants are added to products rather than chemically bound to them, they can be released into the environment. And because they are persistent, they can bioaccumulate, meaning build up, in humans and animals. Humans may also be exposed to bioaccumulate flame retardants via consumption of fatty meats, dairy, and fish.
Thanks to expert opinion and public pressure, PBDEs were slowly phased out of production starting in 2004. Unfortunately, as is common with many chemical bans and phase-outs, other flame retardants, including TBB and TBPH, simultaneously emerged onto the scene.
So even if you are buying new furniture, unless it is labeled as flame-retardant-free, it most likely has one of the new classes of flame retardants. And of course, even though new furniture may not have PDBEs added to it, there’s still a risk of owning old furniture, which may still leach out these chemicals.
Who is at risk for exposure?
Everyone who uses manufactured furniture, electronics, and certain textiles may be at risk for exposure to flame retardants.
Human exposure most often occurs through ingestion of foods or dust containing the particles. Even those who purchase flame-retardant-free products may be at risk for exposure due to build up in our environment from improper disposal of old furniture and appliances covered in flame retardants. And of course, using old furniture and textiles also encours and additional risk.
Because their brains and organs are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to flame retardants. And because children have faster rates of respiration compared to adults, are more likely to spend time on the floor, and are more likely to have frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors, they are at risk of exposing more of the
In fact, a 2017 study from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health that tested for the presence of flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of New York City mothers and toddlers found that 100% of dust samples and 95% of hand wipe samples tested positive for containing PBCE and TPHH.…