Two new studies released this week raise concerns about the widespread contamination of the environment and human health from brominated flame retardants. Flame retardants are found in every day items from sofas to televisions and computers to mattresses.
Yet the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF), an industry front group spawned by PR firm Burson Marsteller, insists flame retardants are safe, despite growing scientific evidence to the contrary. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow nailed it when she said on a recent show "When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson Marsteller on speed dial."
One study reported in the Los Angeles Times found high levels of flame retardants in sediment and shellfish off coastal areas from the Pacific Northwest to Lake Michigan, Maine and Florida. Government officials were quoted that action was needed to "reduce the threats posed to aquatic resources and human health." A second study found that flame retardants in household dust may alter men's hormone levels. It was found that adult men with high levels of flame retardants had lower levels of testosterone. Researchers tested men who had been recruited to the study from infertility clinics.
Another study released in March found that exposure to dust contaminated with deca, a type of brominated flame retardant, alters behavior and brain development in mice, causing hyperactivity that worsened with age, according to a synopsis created by Environmental Health News.
The findings indicate that very early life exposure to the chemical -- called deca-BDE -- has lasting effects on the brain.
Dust has emerged as a major pathway for exposure to flame retardants, which may account for the very high levels found in children, who play on the floor and place objects from the floor into their mouths. An Environmental Working Group investigation of chemical flame retardants in children and their parents found toddlers typically had 3 times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood than their mothers.
The high levels of flame retardants in dust may be related to stringent furniture flammability standards in the US, particularly in California, which has the strongest standards in the country. Americans have much higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies - between 10 and 100 times higher than Europeans and Japanese. Residents of California have twice as much flame retardants in their bodies as other Americans.
And the breast milk of American women contains the highest levels of brominated flame retardants in human breast milk found anywhere in the world.
The Los Angeles Times reported 11 states have banned certain chemical combinations of flame retardants and some manufacturers have agreed to a voluntary ban. Flame retardant chemicals are targeted in California’s green chemistry initiative. In March, Environment Canada announced it would join the European Union to put limits on deca, a chemical that is also targeted for phase out in legislation in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont. Maine and Washington have already passed bans on deca.