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Halogenated Flame Retardants

Arlene Blum, from the Green Science Policy Institute was a guest speaker at our April 2010 Building Ecology Lecture Series.  Below is some recent news from their continuing efforts to reform many materials, particularly the toxic chemicals found in flame retardants in foam insulation and furniture cushions.

Our study with Heather Stapleton and colleagues finding halogenated flame retardants in 80% of  baby products tested (changing pads, nursing pillows, car seats, etc.)  is at:  http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2007462

Visit www.greensciencepolicy.org to download a copy of the Green Science Policy Institute Safe Kids  Handout and Report for Parents and other information.

Here are some results in the paper

  • 80% of the products contained toxic or untested flame retardants
  • 36% of the baby products contained the same chlorinated Tris.  My research helped removed from baby pajamas in 1977.  Tris is a probable human carcinogen according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Levels of Tris were up to 12% of the weight of the foam
  • Some baby products contained three different flame retardants
  • Two new flame retardants were identified

More about some flame retardants

  • The chemicals are semi-volatile and migrate from products to dust to children. Recent studies have show toddlers have four times the level of one flame retardant called pentaBDE compared to their mothers
  • California Latino children who have emigrated here have seven times the pentaBDE level compared to children from the same village who are still in Mexico
  • Black girls have higher levels than Latina girls who have higher levels than white girls in one study
  • The chemicals are associated with adverse neurological and reproductive health effects in hundreds of animal studies and a handful of human studies.
  • These baby products do not pose a fire hazard
  • There is no data to show increased fire safety from using flame retardants to meet the California flammability standard

The TB117 standard that has led to the use of these chemicals, tests bare foam’s resistance to a small flame. But the foam in furniture lies beneath a layer of fabric. The fabric will ignite first and by the time the flame reaches the foam, it is too large for the chemicals that meet TB117 to have an effect.

The story was on the front page of the SF Chronicle and in an CBS evening news report as below. We are  hoping for a repeat of the response to our 1977 Science article.  Parents across the US learned about the  toxic flame retardants in children's pajamas and the chemicals were removed. Public awareness should contribute to  an alternative  flammability standard for our baby products and couches to provide fire safety without toxicity.

Here are some of the stories to check out: 

NY Times Article: Chemical Suspected in Cancer Is in Baby Products

See CBS evening news coverage of May 18, 2011

SF Chronicle Article: Most baby products contain toxic chemicals

UC Berkeley Press Release, 18 May 2011: Toxic flame retardants found in many foam baby

btv.com on your side: Toxic Chemicals Prevalent in Baby Products

Chemical and Engineering News: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2007462.

Consumer Reports Blog:http://news.consumerreports.org/baby/2011/05/placeholder-for-fire-retardants-in-baby-products.html

A longer list can be found at http://greensciencepolicy.org/node/351

Arlene Blum PhD
Visiting Scholar, Chemistry
University of California, Berkeley
Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute
Telephone: 510 644-3164           Mobile: 510 919-6363

Web: www.greensciencepolicy.org, www.arleneblum.com

The Green Science Policy Institute provides unbiased scientific information to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate more informed decision-making about chemicals used in consumer products in order to protect health and environment world-wide.