One of the biggest chemical families is those that make up various kinds of flame retardant substances. Flame retardants are present in much of our furniture and have been proven to be toxic on MANY levels, especially to children.
Now, if you have kids, like me, I’ll share with you why this information about flame retardants peaked my interest. Flame retardants are not only added to items like kids pajamas, but their also found in car seats, crib mattresses, changing table pads, strollers and other items that our kids lay on and come in close contact with.
This makes a difference because our kids are not only much smaller in size — meaning a small amount of a toxin or chemical can REALLY affect their bodies. But they also have very undeveloped systems, ranging from their brains to their hormone production to their lungs. These systems in their bodies are at risk and are more susceptible to toxins and chemicals contributing to body burden.
Not only the above, but kids also have hand to mouth habits that allow them to ingest dust from your home that contains chemicals, and in particular, flame retardant chemicals from things like foam in furniture, carpet and clothing fibers.
But, adults are also at risk. The rise in thyroid cancer has been directly linked to flame retardants, especially in women. And it does more than that, it affects our hormone production as well as weakens the immune system.
Thankfully there are more and more options and alternatives to the chemicals that are in our everyday products, but flame retardants is one of those chemical families that sticks around in our bodies and the environment for long periods of time.
So let’s get into our deep dive of flame retardants in your home.
WHAT ARE FLAME RETARDANT CHEMICALS?
Flame retardants are found in multiple products around the home. Specifically, they are found most often in items we sleep on and in and other products we are in very close contact with on a daily basis. Think mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpet, insulation, kids clothing, car seats, strollers and coating on electronic cords and products.
Brominated Flame Retardants are probably the most common example of a chemical of a flame retardant chemical which is added to household products. Bromine is the main component in this flame retardant and is usually added to building materials, furniture and other electronic items.
Another example of a flame retardant chemical is Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). Most products manufactured in the US before 2013 contain this chemical. However, some homes still contain furniture and products from before the total ban was in effect.
Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is a flame retardant chemical most commonly found in polystyrene foam which is in building materials. This is the type of flame retardant that is most often found in dust present in homes.
Other flame retardant chemicals that are currently used in polyurethane foam found in furniture and children’s products are:
- EHTBB (Tetrabromobenzoate)
- BEHTBP (bis 2 ethylhexyl tetrabromophthalate)
- TPP (Triphenyl Phosphate)
- V6 (chloromethyl propane 1,3 – diyltetrakis)
HEALTH EFFECTS OF FLAME RETARDANTS
Endocrine & Thyroid Disruption: Brominated flame retardant chemicals have been known to cause issues with the adrenal glands as well as hormonal irregularities. (STUDY) These flame retardants are also being found in our environment as well as our bodies for long periods of time after exposure, meaning they are causing damage for extended periods of time. (STUDY)
Immune System Suppression: A study done on frogs in 2014 showed that pollutants such as flame retardant chemicals reduce their immune function and make it so they’re unable to fight off disease pathogens. The study also showed a weakened immune system in mice, mink and possibly people as well. (STUDY)
Carcinogenic: Flame retardant chemicals have specifically been linked to thyroid cancer, the fastest increasing cancer int he US. The link has been studied and prove in animals and now attention is being turned to humans, specifically women. Specifically this type of cancer is being linked to dust from polyurethane foam. (STUDY)
Reproductive Toxicity: Flame retardants cause problems in both men and women when it comes to reproductive toxicity. Lowered sperm counts and decreased reproductive hormones have been linked to PBDEs and other flame retardant chemicals in polyurethane foam (STUDY).
In women who had high urinary concentrations of flame retardant, there was a reduced likelihood in live birth and conception (STUDY).
Delays in Development: A 2017 study out of Oregon State University analyzed the behavior and exposure levels to flame retardants in children. The study found an increased likelihood in aggression, bullying, defiance and inability to problem solve linked to higher levels of flame retardant exposure (STUDY)
Reduced Neurological Function: Scientists at UC Davis Mind Institute studied flame retardant chemicals and linked them to delayed neurological function and cognitive process. They found it may also be a possible link to autism in children (STUDY)
ALTERNATIVES TO FLAME RETARDANT CHEMICALS THAT ARE SAFE
While many products have very few alternatives to flame retardant chemicals, there are more and more coming onto the market that are a healthier alternative.
Natural Wool: Many homes use this as an insulation option instead of flame retardant laden batting. You can read more about insulation choices that are natural and healthy here.
Some mattresses and furniture are also embracing natural wool as it is a great alternative to toxins and flame retardants.
Dihydroxybenxoic Acid: A plant based flame retardant that is found in both nuts and tea leaves. Specifically it comes from a substance found in buckwheat. This plant based flame retardant is currently being tested, but could be an exceptional alternative when it comes to creating toxin free furniture, mattresses and carpet. (Info)
TB117-2013 Label: This label is on upholstered furniture and when on furniture, indicates that it does not contain any flame retardants. This is really just in the state of California currently, but you can still find furniture manufactured around the US with this label.