Flame Retardants in Your Home: The Truth May be Too Hot to Handle!

by Ron & Lisa Beres on June 26, 2012 · 6 comments

The heat is on, but who is really winning this war on toxic chemicals? Most parents think they are doing everything they can to protect their kids. They buy car seats, avoid feeding them unhealthy foods, and assure their children get plenty of exercise. Unfortunately, a lot of parents overlook one important hidden danger: Flame retardants.

Flame Retardants are Everywhere

Brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) are a large class of chemicals added to materials to inhibit ignition and slow the rate of combustion. These long-lasting chemicals reduce the risk of household fires, but research reveals they have very sinister effect on health. They were developed because many materials are naturally flammable which can lead to safety issues. Flame retardants are found in furniture, synthetic clothing, electronics (including cell phones and computer cases), bedding, mattresses and on airplanes. According to a 2011 UC Berkeley study, PBDEs can be found in the blood of up to 97% of U.S. residents and Americans have 20 times higher blood levels of PBDEs than in Europe. The fact that flame retardants, found in significant concentrations in so many everyday products, are showing up in fish as well as (very alarmingly) breast milk, is a cause for concern.

Dangerous Flame Retardant Agents

BFRs include Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs). All of these chemicals have similar negative effects on the human body and, unfortunately, are the most commonly used flame retardants. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are linked to are linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, lowered testosterone in men and neurological disorders in children. Some flame retardants – pentaBDE and octaBDE – have been phased out, but still remain in our environment and in products made prior to 2004. PentaBDE and decaBDE are being replaced by new brominated and chlorinated compounds, of which impact on human health remains unclear.

Watch a recent video by the Chicago Tribune which illustrates an investigation at how industry has used deceptive tactics to convince the public they’re needed:

Flame Retardants and the Developing Brain & Endocrine System

Flame retardants impact the developing brain in a profoundly negative manner. Because of this, it is extremely unfortunate that children tend to have higher concentrations of flame retardants in their bloodstream than adults. Endocrine-disrupting PBDEs and PBBs may alter children’s brain development and cause learning and behavior problems. Children aren’t the only ones at risk from exposure to commercial flame retardants. Adults are at risk too, particularly women. PBDEs and PBBs accumulate in blood and fat tissues.

6 Tips to Eliminate Flame Retardants from Your Home

While completely eliminating flame retardants from your home can be challenging, there is a lot you can do to reduce you and your family’s exposure.

1.)    Replace your mattresses if it is not certified organic.  Look for those made with naturally fire retardant wool instead of toxic chemicals.

2.)    Cover or replace foam seats in your car or upholstery cushions where foam pads are exposed or breaking down.

3.)    Minimize your exposure by using electronic cases made from natural materials for some of your favorite devices.

4.)    Enforce frequent hand-washing. PBDEs such as TDCPP, also known as chlorinated Tris, are transferred from hand to mouth through household dust.

5.)    Vacuum with a HEPA filter as well as a wet mop to remove dust particles in your home. Flame retardant chemicals are semi-volatile and get into air and dust.

6.)    Consider changing your diet. In general, high fat foods were found to be the richest in the HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) flame retardant. These fat bonding chemicals bind to human fat, where they can exist for years. Cutting out some of the fat from your diet will help reduce the amount present in your body.

We Can’t Do Everything, but We Can All Do Something

Most flame retardants cause significant problems when they are present in high concentrations. If eliminating all the items containing flame retardants from your home seems overwhelming, you can always take a more gradual approach. Everyday, for example, make a commitment to eliminate one flame retardant contaminated item.  Also, encourage your senators to sign the Safe Checmials Act.


Mattresses, which were required to meet federal open-flame standards (based on California law TB 177), required toxic flame retardant chemicals or other flame-resistant barrier materials such as wool, Kevlar or melamine fibers. Starting January 2014, furniture makers will be able to sell furniture with the new “TB 117-2013″ tag. This new law allows manufacturers to meet the new smolder-test requirement versus the previous twelve-second open flame test currently in place, which would be much easier for manufacturers to meet without adding any flame retardant chemicals. Manufacturers and retailers have one year to comply with the new flammability standard. Be sure to check with your manufacturer to find out what chemical or material they utilized to comply with the new regulations before purchasing and assure the healthiest mattress.

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