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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.


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Flame Retardants: Is California's Victory the End of This Story?

Posted by on 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 California’s victory will most likely have national implications as manufacturers no longer have to meet this outdated standard.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.


Sara Clay said ..

My babies were born in 1986 and1988, and I sewed their clothes to avoid these flame retartdants, and said "no" to "no-stain" chemicals on the new couch,but little did I know that when I bought them mats for home gymnastics that the hazards were there. Shame on me! The mats are still here. I've been thinking of donating them to local folks, but not now! Thanks for the info-I'll recycle them in the toxic waste.

January 16, 2014
Shawn Sargent said ..

I have known about flame retardants in furniture, for a long time and I am very excited about the news about California. Why isn't this story on 60 Minutes, so that a larger audience receives this powerful message? Put it on 60 Minutes, or some other big media station, or better yet, a special on PBS stations across the country, like on NOVA.

December 19, 2013

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