Making healthy babies and keeping them healthy, happy … and safe.

Banned cancer-causing fire retardant still in use

Posted by NonToxic House on July 14, 2008

Fire retardants are designed to protect you and your family – and that’s good – but there are growing concerns over some of them.

This week, for instance, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  ran a story indicating that a flame retardant called “chlorinated tris” –  which was banned from use in children’s pajamas more than 30 years ago after it was found to cause cancer – is being used with increasing regularity in furniture, paint – even baby carriers and bassinets – and manufacturers are under no obligation to let the public know about it.

Chlorinated Tris is meant to make products like upholstered furniture and mattresses safer by preventing them from catching fire. But the Journal Sentinel‘s story leaves many wondering which is the bigger risk: a potential fire or the product meant to minimize it?

Even more troubling: The Journal Sentinel reports that the EPA says chlorinated tris is safe, even while groups like the the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute and others have concluded that it does, in fact, cause cancer. Furthermore, the Sentinel says the EPA is basing its opinion on chlorinated tris on 16 dated and unverified research studies, which are: 1) all funded by chemical makers; 2) all but one were conducted more than 25 years ago; and 3) only one was published or “peer reviewed”, which is the standard for “sound” scientific scrutiny. 

Beyond trying to fix the EPA, there are some concrete things you can do to try and minimize your exposure:

  • Review the Environmental Working Group’s list of product manufacturers that have pledged not to use PBDEs, a class of flame retardants that are in wide use; use this list as your buying or baby registry guide.
  • Avoid contact with exposed foam inside existing furniture, baby items, carpet padding, mattresses or any household products. If you can’t replace them, cover these products to minimize your contact with the foam. In the case of matresses or pillows, try fitting them with allergan covers to minimize the dust.
  • Clean your home with a vacuum containing a HEPA filter; a report by the EWG found that flame retardants accumulate in household dust.
  • Buy products with natural, untreated fibers (wool is said to have some fire retardant properties).
  • Read this collection of articles on flame retardants from The Green Guide

There’s some reassurance in the fact that advocacy groups are putting lots of pressure on industry and government to reduce the use of harmful fire retardants and to replace them with better alternatives.

Until then, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the growing laundry list of “bad” things to watch out for; take the 30,000 foot view on the subject instead. You can go a long way to avoiding flame retardants and other environmental toxins by taking a simpler, more natural approach to life. Buy less stuff. Source natural, untreated fibers for your family. Eat organic when you can. Filter your water. Avoid processed foods. Minimize your use of plastics. Use non-toxic cleaning products.

Simpler, more natural, self-reliant living is empowering and – among other things – it can help you avoid some of the toxins that burden our lives.


2 Responses to “Banned cancer-causing fire retardant still in use”

  1. Mike said

    The truth is flame retardants save thousands of lives every day. Green terrorist organizations spread dangerous and misinformed rumors about them all the time. Meanwhile a 2 year girl died yesterday playing with a lighter in an upstairs room in Renesselar IN. How many more children will have to die or get injured before this nonsense stops!

    If everone on the planet used wool as a naturally flame retardant material then they’d be deforestation of massive proportions for the sheep to graze and an enormous increase in Greenhouse gases from the methane they belch out. Using wool is just an elitist myth that could never be practical for a significant proportion of the world’s population.

    Why can’t you focus on real issues and leave the safety of chemicals to the EPA and FDA and their equivalents world-wide who are the real experts and have declard these products safe to use and have through their many actions casued massive improvements in the quality and longevity of all our lives

  2. safeBABY said

    Thanks for your comments, Mike.

    Of course, there’s good in the concept of a flame retardant, but I don’t believe it should be an either/or scenario. “We can save your life with this chemical if there’s a fire, but in the meantime it’ll pollute your body”. How about less toxic chemical alternatives? Or chemical-free alternatives? Why should flame retardants show up in a mother’s breast milk? Or be found in our waterways? I think any reasonable person would conclude that something is wrong here, and that change is needed.

    Unfortunately, I can’t take your advice to “leave the safety of chemicals to the EPA and FDA and their equivalents world-wide”. I can’t expect the change to come from these organizations. This link is a good example why: There’s simply too much of a conflict of interest in many of the people at these agencies for them to do a proper job.

    No, these days, I’m relying on the motto of self-sufficiency because, sadly, I can’t afford to leave my safety or well-being in anyone’s hands other than my own.

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