Flame retardant chemicals are used in many consumer products, ostensibly to slow the spread of fire. However, despite the industry’s claims, these chemicals do not effectively slow the spread of fires. Further, they pose a serious health risk to fire fighters, children, and others. One class of flame retardants, brominated flame retardants (BFR), including Penta, Octa, and Deca, have been widely used in products since the 1960s. Another notorious class of flame retardant is chlorinated Tris. Several forms of Tris, including TDCPP, TCEP, and TCPP, are linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and neurotoxicity.
PBDEs such as Deca have been linked to delays in brain development, reproductive problems, and cancer. Studies indicate that children suffer the greatest harm from Deca exposure, and have PBDE levels in their bodies that are 2-3 times greater than adults. Chlorinated Tris acts as a neurotoxin and its forms are listed as known or suspected carcinogens and mutagens. Further, these chemicals emit toxic gases harmful to fire fighters when ignited. An expanding body of evidence also links flame retardant exposure to:
- Endocrine and thyroid disruption
- Lowered IQ
- Impaired fertility
- Depressed immune systems
How we’re exposed
Flame retardant chemicals are added in large quantities to foam in furniture, electronics, and other consumer products. Over time, these chemicals escape from furniture foam and other products and get into the dust in our homes, which is the main route of human exposure. Deca is pervasive due to buildup in fish and the human body, including a fetus’ umbilical cord and breast milk. PBDEs like Deca are highly toxic and can be found in a variety of products including carpeting, clothing, mattresses, computers, and televisions. Chlorinated Tris is a very pervasive flame retardant commonly found in furniture and baby products including:
- Nursing pillows
- Changing table pads
- Car seats
- Baby carriers
- High chair pads
The Vermont legislature passed the Fire Fighter Protection Act of 2007, which established that certain cancers common among firefighters are presumed to be caused by their exposure to carcinogens and toxins as flame retardants burn. In 2009, Vermont enacted Act 61 limiting “brominated” flame retardants, including PBDEs Octa, Penta, and Deca, from certain consumer products. Even though many of these flame retardants have been phased out of production by chemical companies, they persist in the environment and continue to have negative health impacts. Banning brominated flame retardants is a major step in the right direction, but Vermonters continue to be exposed to other toxic flame retardant chemicals, including chlorinated Tris. We must phase out the use of these toxic and ineffective chemicals and promote healthier alternatives for achieving fire safety standards. In 2013, the legislature expanded the state’s flame retardant ban to also include chlorinated Tris (TDCPP and TCEP, and potentially TCPP pending further studies). This legislation (S.81) restricts the use of Tris in home furniture and children’s products.