Health & Flame Retardants
The health effects of being exposed to flame retardants in furniture
The scientific community has identified many flame retardant chemicals as substances of concern for several adverse effects, such us persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity, mutagenicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and carcinogenicity. In furniture items flame retardants are added to foam and textiles. Long-term exposure occurring in homes and offices is potentially harmful. Exposure is not limited to direct contact with furniture as the chemicals are not bound to the foam and can also come off the fabric they are coated to. Flame retardants are released through normal use and settle into dust. Toddlers are at a higher potential risk as they crawl around, getting dust on their hands and in their mouths. Workers are exposed when manufacturing or handling products that contain flame retardant chemicals. Fire-fighters suffer from exposure to toxic fumes released from the combustion of materials containing flame retardants.
The “San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants” addresses the growing concern in the scientific community about the persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic properties of brominated and chlorinated organic flame retardants. The consensus statement has over 200 signatories from 30 countries, representing expertise on health, environment and fire safety. The statement was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2010.
“Flame Retardants can be emitted from the treated products, contaminating indoor and outdoor environment. Organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) have been reported in air, dust, water, sediment, and soil. In the indoor environment, the PFR contamination levels are comparable to, or even higher than PBDEs. Recently, low levels of PFRs have also been found in food and biota samples, which raise serious concerns of PFR pollution in environment. Some PFRs […] are suspected to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or neurotoxic […]. Moreover, PFR levels in house dust were associated with the altered hormone levels and decrease of semen quality. Recently, PFRs have been found in breast milk, implying a potential health threat to newborns. Also, significant correlations have been reported between air/dust samples and human hair. PFRs are less persistent, more easily metabolized and further excreted via urine. Some PFR metabolites in urine were associated with their parent compounds in indoor dust or hand wipes, indicating a common exposure of the general public to PFRs”.
ARTE documentary on the health risks posed by flame retardants
Is exposure to flame retardants and other toxics reducing the intelligence of our population?
On 11 November 2017 ” Brains in Danger: How chemicals are poisoning future generations “ [Original title: Demain, Tous Cretins?] premiered in France. The French documentary includes the story of flame retardants and the work carried out by Arlene Blum and the Green Science Policy Institute on flame retardants. It shares the message that we need to reduce the use of toxic chemicals to protect our brains and those of future generations.
Since the 1970s, an increasing number of regulations have expanded the use of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Many of these chemicals are now recognized as global contaminants and are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans, including endocrine and thyroid disruption, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development and neurologic function. Some flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been banned or voluntarily phased out by manufacturers because of their environmental persistence and toxicity, only to be replaced by other flame retardants of unknown toxicity.
The Alliance for Flame Retardant Free Furniture in Europe consists of stakeholders ranging from environmental and health NGOs to industry, cancer organisations, fire fighters and labour unions.
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