Citing Health Risks, Advocacy Groups Want Toxic Flame Retardants Banned

Citing Health Risks, Advocacy Groups Want Toxic Flame Retardants Banned
Image: Pixabay
April 02, 2015

A broad coalition of health, firefighter, consumer, and science groups want federal regulators to ban flame retardants in some consumer products.

A petition requests that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ban children's products, furniture, mattresses, and the casings around electronics that contain flame retardants that are known to cause health problems.

This entire class of chemicals, called organohalogens, have been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, delays in conceiving, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity.

Despite these health risks, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says the chemicals continue to be used at high levels in consumer products.

"When toxic flame retardants burn - and they do burn - it creates a serious health risk for fire fighters," International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger said in a statement." There is significant scientific data that shows the association between firefighting, exposure to deadly toxins and cancer."

The chemicals aren't only a risk when they burn; they migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, such as when a guest sits on a sofa or a baby is laid down on a crib's mattress.

As a result, says CFA, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood.

Studies show that children, whose developing brains and reproductive organs are most vulnerable, have three to five times higher levels than their parents.

"Children's natural behaviors – playing on the floor, exploring different surfaces, putting things in their mouths – make them uniquely vulnerable to flame retardants and the harmful fumes and dust they emit," said Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

While there is no law or government regulation that compels the use of these kids of flame retardants, there is no law that prohibits them.

The chemical industry has started phasing out these chemicals with others that are also harmful.

"Consumers rightly expect the furniture and children's products in their homes to meet flammability standards – but not at the expense of being exposed to toxic chemicals," said Urvashi Rangan director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. "CPSC should ban products with these hazardous flame retardants, and encourage manufacturers to use smolder-resistant fabrics and fire-resistant barrier materials instead."