Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Californians Are the Leaders in Flame Retardants Contamination

A new study, published in the Environmental Science and Technology today, shows higher levels of flame retardants in California residents when compared to other U.S. states and Europe. The study compared dust samples of PBDE from 49 homes in two California communities (Richmond and Bolinas – for the Californians interested in the subject) with 120 Massachusetts homes and with other published studies. It also compared regional PBDE serum levels across the NHANES sample.

The dust concentration of PBDE in the California homes were 4-10 times higher than levels in Ottawa, Canada, Cape Cod, MA, Boston, MA, Washington, DC, and Texas and were 200 times higher than those reported from Germany. The dust concentrations were higher for Richmond - predominantly a low-income, urban community with oil refineries as the main city industry and frequently in the local news with pollution stories.

The BPDE serum levels were higher for the Western region (including California) compared to Eastern region. Interestingly, the U.S. residents born in other countries had lower levels compared to U.S. born residents.

Although the study needs a larger sample size distributed across various California communities in order to generalize the results – it still raise a flag about California flammability standards that requires furniture to be fire resistant to an open flame for 12 seconds. The California agency that promulgated the TB117 is now planning to extend the flammability requirements to the bed clothing.

Although penta-PBDE has been phased out, deca-PBDE is still on the market and the new chemicals have not been studied for safety.

What to do to minimize this contamination:

  • avoid PBDE's in electronics; next time when you need to purchase new electronics look for companies that ban brominated flame retardants in their products.
  • avoid PBDE's in foam; all furniture that has foam in it has also flame retardants. Vacuum your furniture and carpet often; be careful when removing old carpet (ventilate well). When purchasing new products, ask the manufacturer what flame retardants are they using. Ikea is always a good place to shop, since they phased out all PBDE's many years ago.
  • do not reupholster your old furniture.
  • the alternatives of PBDE's are not fully tested for their health effects so try to buy products made from natural fibers (wool and cotton) because they are naturally flame resistant. However, be careful when purchasing organic furniture; it still can have flame retardants.
  • wash your hand often and make a habit for the kids as well; their hands seem to be more full of dust since they spend more time playing on the floor.
I'd say that the main think the study shows is that you should consider Hanover Germany over Richmond, CA; true geographical comparisons need much larger study samples collected and analyzed in the same way to provide accurate comparisons.


Erin said...

Hello, hats off to you for raising this issue. I am a parent of a one year old and have considered myself an environmentalist since I was seven and insisted my parents put a brick in the toilet chamber to reduce our water use.

I am wondering what I can do as a concerned citizen to demand that more research is conducted on flame retardants and their effects on our health and the environment. I have a hard time understanding why I need flame retardants if I am a non-smoker and actively check my smoke alarms to ensure they work. Is it worth contacting our representatives and senators? Are there any organizations putting mass campaigns together to lobby for more studies?

Thanks and keep the the topics coming! Erin

Lucia said...

Hi Erin,

thanks for the comment. It is great that you want more to be done on this issue. The Environmental Working Group ( running various campaigns regarding this issue and many others. In fact there is the Kid-Safe Chemical Act ( that needs to be passed. If you would like to be involved in the grassroots of this act, please visit their page (follow the link provided above). It is great that you want to be involved in this kind of work, and it would be great to see more and more parents doing it.

I hope this help! Lucia