As a child, I remember hearing about a little girl who was injured after standing too near an open flame while wearing a nightgown. Her gown caught fire and she was badly burned. This happened in the 1970’s, just prior to the introduction of flame retardant chemicals in childrens’ sleepwear. Since that time, these chemicals have found their way into all kinds of products intended for babies and children. It’s in clothes, bedding, cribs, strollers, baby carriers and more.
But while manufacturers who make products with flame retardants do so to prevent what happened to that little girl from happening to others, experts are beginning to fear these chemicals are doing more harm than good.
Research suggests that as flame retardant chemicals find their way into the bloodstreams of children, they wreak havoc on their developing brains. Evidence has emerged suggesting this type of exposure can lead to hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, delayed mental development, hearing problems and even cancer in children.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed putting PBDE, the most commonly used flame retardant, on their list of Chemicals of Concern. Putting a substance on that list indicates that it poses an unreasonable hazard to consumers and is the first step in the process of restricting or banning it outright.
But while researchers and the government are learning more about the dangers associated with flame retardants, the billion dollar chemical industry is busy dancing around the issue. Kathleen Curtis, policy director of Clean New York, says that while several chemicals, including Deca, were voluntarily discontinued, the makers did so without admitting they were dangerous and often replaced with them with something equally as dangerous.
“The industry moves a few molecules and calls it a new product. Going after these flame retardants one at a time is like playing Whack-a-Mole. You knock one out and another one pops up. They are just buying time.”
Consider chlorine, a flame retardant base that experts say is closely related to a product called Tris. Tris was banned from childrens’ pajamas in 1977 after it was determined that it could be absorbed into the skin and cause gene mutations. Despite the similarities, the chemical industry insists these chlorinated chemicals are safe and continues to use them in furniture foam, baby strollers and other products.
What’s worse than the fact that 97 percent of Americans have potentially harmful flame retardants in their blood? How about the fact that the EPA says there is no evidence that these products even reduce fires?
And how is a cosumer to know if what they are buying for their children and themselves contains chemicals that can cause harm? In this case, they usually can’t because few flame retardants are actually listed on labels.
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