Study Finds Flame Retardants In Furniture On the Rise

By Caitlin Carmody, Membership Coordinator

Scanning the news is part of my day job and in the process I read a lot of articles about the increasing numbers of toxic chemicals identified in our everyday products: cosmetics, cleaning materials, canned food, receipts –the list goes on and on.

Today a new study came across my desk confirming that household furniture remains a major source of our exposure to a variety of flame retardants, some of which have been linked to cancer, altered hormones, and neurological effects.

California’s flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 has become the driving force for non-essential applications of chemical flame retardants throughout the US. Many chemicals used are untested for human safety and unlisted for consumers. Not surprisingly, given the proliferation of flame retardant consumer products, dust in California homes are contaminated with levels of flame retardants that exceed health risk guidelines developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. California is currently debating a new standard that would reduce the use of flame retardants in furniture.

Ami Zota, who studies flame retardants and reproductive health at the University of California, San Francisco, said “I am concerned by the rise in use and diversity of flame retardants on the market because we have very little information on their toxicity and potential effects on the general population, particularly vulnerable subpopulations such as pregnant women and young children.”

Invariably, after detailing the new study that’s been published about toxic chemicals in my home and body, and quoting scientists who study the chemicals, news articles quotes a spokesperson for the chemical industry, usually someone from the American Chemistry Council.

The chemical industry has a formula for canned (pardon the pun) responses to news that calls into question the safety of their manufactured products. It goes something like this:

1. Our products are perfectly legal according to the laws in the United States.
2. Our products are good for you or helping your family in some way.
3. The amount of XYZ chemical present in these products is so small, it is not a threat to human health.
4. According to our spokesperson and /or in house scientists the study is flawed or inconclusive.

In other words, despite mounting and under-valued evidence—see the 2010 President’s Cancer Panel finding that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” — the chemical industry will never concede that their products might be unsafe for us to use. Duh! They have a multi-billion dollar industry they want to protect and as long as their industry lacks imposed strong regulation they are sitting on a cash cow that is slowly killing us.

The American Chemistry Council’s response to the flame retardant study published today conformed beautifully to the canned response: “This study confirms what we would expect to find: Furniture manufacturers use approved flame retardants to meet established fire safety standards (#1), which help save lives (#2). There is no data in this study that indicate that the levels of flame retardants found would cause any human health problems (#3)”

In addition to the flame retardant study, another piece of news came across my desk this morning. A federal judge ordered tobacco companies to pay for a huge publicity campaign addressing the fact that they have spent decades denying the harmful health risks of their products.

In 30 years, will we see the American Chemistry Council paying for similar billboards? “We lied to the public about the risks of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxicants in our products. Please forgive us.”

We could avoid likely countless human deaths (and such public humiliation for these bad for our health industries), if we all demanded stronger legislation placing limits on toxic chemicals in our everyday products. Clearly, these industries are not going to clean up their acts on their own. We need stronger regulation that prohibits the chemical industry from legally putting our health at risk: regulation like the Safe Chemicals Act, landmark legislation that would overhaul the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has failed to protect public health and the environment.

You can take action right now to support stronger regulation of toxic chemicals by asking your legislators to pass the Safe Chemicals Act. Our health must come before corporate profits. For the sake of all our health we must adopt a strong precautionary approach to health.

Breast Cancer Action has made a point of always offering clear, insightful analysis of health news and hard-hitting advocacy to protect our health. We will continue to challenge the chemical industry’s spin and deception, as well as politicians who put corporate profits (and election donations) before our health. And we can’t do this work alone. Join us as we build the movement to stop cancer before it starts. If you can chip in with a $10 donation today your support will enable us to provide ongoing independent analysis for women’s health.

This entry was posted in BCA Action Alerts, BCA News.