Flame Retardants: The Jet Set, Globe Hopping Toxins

6723126489_a7ef60481f_b.jpgThough polybrominated diphenyl ethers might not be in your everyday vocabulary, its more than likely that they are in your everyday environment. PBDEs and other flame retardants have long been known to cause endocrine problems and we are learning that even though some are being phased out, these virtually indelible chemicals are showing up in people and animals in most every corner of the globe. Deborah Blum of The New York Times combs through some of the most recent studies on flame retardants and finds that they can be found in the tissues of arctic penguins, fish from North America, and bees from Europe ... just to name a few. It’s a matter of the particles being small, hard to breakdown, so widely used and sprayed on, and not bonded to materials. Blum explains:

 

Human activities help spread the flame retardants, but the larger drift of them across the planet derives from their longtime use in homes and businesses. The compounds are often sprayed into fabrics and foams used in furniture, bedding and clothing, rather than chemically bonded to the material. So they are gradually shed. Often they attach to dust particles, which not only settle onto floors and shelves, but also waft outside through open doors and windows and air-conditioning systems."

There are also high levels of these toxins in most human environments like airplanes, homes and even tents.  Limiting exposure, according to Blum, at this point looks pretty grim:

Dr. Bradman recommends frequent hand washing and vacuuming, particularly in environments in which children may be exposed. He also suggests looking for products labeled as free of flame retardants."

More effective steps, he added, will require national policy changes, including laws that require better assessment of these chemicals and funding for studies of alternative strategies to protect against fire."

But there is always something we can do. As with most things when it comes to the health of our species and our planet, positive change begins with awareness. Educating yourself and others on the negative effects of these types of flame retardants, buying products that are free of them and supporting (or creating!) legislation that will keep us safer are steps we can all take to improve this issue.

 PHOTO: Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration,U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons

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