Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy
Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to
answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals,
and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and
analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.
Flame Retardants: Is California's Victory the End of This Story?
Kathy Attar, MPH
December 13, 2013
Babies born in the U.S. have in their bodies the highest average concentrations of flame retardant chemicals of any infants in the world. How did this come to be? For decades, manufacturers have treated furniture cushions and upholstery with toxic chemicals to comply with a flammability standard set by a lone state, California.
Our latest Environmental Health Policy Institute looks at how this standard -- and the tons of toxic flame retardant chemicals it brought into our homes and lives -- affect our health and the health of our children. Exposure to flame-retardant chemicals has been linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity, hormonal disruption, immunotoxicity, lowered IQ and cancer. Many of these chemicals persist in the environment and can move up the food chain to reside in humans. One example is the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a class of flame retardants; high levels of this chemical are found in the maternal blood serum of indigenous women of Alaska. Research also reveals that competitive gymnasts in the U.S. have three times the level of brominated flame retardant PentaBDE, in their bodies compared to the general population, due to its presence in gym mats. Read our Institute and find out more about flame retardants’ persistent and bio-accumulative nature and dangerous health effects.
Fortunately, the flammability standard was recently rejected by California Governor Jerry Brown, due primarily to the advocacy activities of a group of scientists and public health advocates. California’s victory will most likely have national implications as manufacturers no longer have to meet this outdated standard.
Read on to learn more about the campaign’s successes, as well as the current and future health implications of exposure to toxic flame retardants.
Competitive gymnasts can be exposed to high levels of flame retardants through the foam equipment used in gyms
Courtney Carignan, PhD
Changing Flammability Standards in California: An Important Step towards Improved Health and Safety
Kristine Jinnett, PhD
Environmental Injustice in the Arctic: Toxic Flame Retardants Threaten Human Health
Pamela K. Miller
New study finds that banned flame retardants have declined in California pregnant women
Ami Zota, ScD, MS
The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.