This month, The Environment Report ran a series of stories about flame retardants which were broadcast on NPR affiliates throughout the country. The stories clearly summarized the threat that flame retardants—-also known as PBDEs—-play in our everyday lives.
PBDEs accumulate and are long lasting, and we are concerned about them because they have been known interfere with proper thyroid function in laboratory animals, cause problems with brain development, and disrupt learning, memory and behavior.
Report author Rebecca Williams reported on the ubiquity of flame retardants. When she wanted to find out what flame retardants were in her home, she turned to Safer Coalition organization, The Ecology Center, for answers.
Jeff Gearhart from The Ecology Center went to Williams’ home and found flame retardants in her television, her carpet, her chairs, her baby’s car seat and play mat, and her cable box.
“They’re in your car. They’re in your couch, your office chair, your TV, your drapes, the padding beneath your carpet, your hair dryer, your cell phone. The problem is, they don’t stay put.
They leach out of products and they get into us. They’re in dust and soil and the wastewater sludge that’s spread on farm fields. The chemicals are in fish and meat and dairy. They’ve been found in the Arctic and Antarctic. They’re in peregrine falcons and killer whales and polar bears and salmon. They’re in cats and dogs. Babies come into the world with flame retardant chemicals in their bodies. The chemicals have also been turning up in breast milk.”
-Rebecca Williams, Environment Report
The original goal for flame retardants in our home was to slow down fires and save lives. However, the protection came with a price:
“They’ve added a toxicity level which has made things much more dangerous for everybody.”
- Kathleen Chamberlain, Fire Marshall, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Once again, states are taking up the slack for lack of federal government protection against toxic chemicals. Maine, Washington, Vermont and Oregon have all passed bans against flame retardants in light of safer alternatives, and laws are pending in several other states.
”The hope is this new generation of flame retardants will be safe. But there’s no government standard to guarantee that.”
-Rebecca Williams, The Environment Report
Go to the Environment Report’s page about flame retardants to listen to the story yourself, and to read responses from the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Chemistry Council, and several chemical companies.
Check out our newly updated fact page about flame retardants for the latest information.