Toxic Chemicals in Your Living Room

Toxic chemicals and your home —not two things we want to hear together in the same sentence. But toxic chemicals are much more ubiquitous in our homes than we’d like to think.

For example, for years, chemical companies have been pouring their fire retardant chemicals into everything from household couch cushions to the plastic covers on TV sets and even into children’s products—even though these chemicals are known to be highly toxic and have proven unnecessary in many instances. Flame retardants have a long history of negative health impacts both in humans and in animal studies, including interference with normal thyroid hormone function, delayed puberty, abnormal sperm, infertility; hyperactivity, decreased memory and learning, suppressed immune systems and cancer, to name a few! Children have been found to have three times the levels of flame retardants in their bodies as their mothers due to the frequent hand to mouth activities in which children engage.

In California, health advocates have worked to change state laws that require manufacturers to use flame retardants in many products for children. Since flame retardants pose health hazards and have not proven useful in products like high chairs, strollers, breastfeeding pillows, and portable cribs, CEH and other advocates for children’s health want producers to have the option to make children’s products without the toxic chemicals.

Sadly, industry lobbying defeated a recent bill in California that would have given manufacturers the choice to make products without toxic flame retardants. The bill lost despite support from public health advocates and many firefighter groups, including the California Professional Firefighters, San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, and the Stentorians of Los Angeles County: Association of African Americans in the Fire Service.

Given these known health hazards and support from health and firefighting experts, why did the bill fail? Follow the money. Flame retardant chemicals are big business. A recent market research survey reported that the global market for flame-retardant chemicals was worth $4.1 billion in 2008, and predicted a market increase to $6.1 billion by 2014. Obviously, this is no small matter for those at the top of this industry who want to keep it going.

One of the most fervent opponents of this public health bill was “Citizens for Fire Safety,” an organization that—unbeknownst to most—has nothing to do with any “citizens” or any “fire safety” advocates – it’s a front-group for the chemical companies that make fire retardants. The industry front used scare tactics and exploited horrific experiences of individuals to lobby lawmakers to vote against fire retardant bans.

For example, they paraded burn victims through the halls of the Capitol to lobby against the Bill during the assembly hearings. Burn victims shared their personal traumas and made an emotional plea for this bill although none of these tragedies had anything to do with the start of fires in juvenile products.

There are legitimate uses for fire retardants in some products (e,g. airplanes), but these chemicals have no place in high chairs, strollers, portable cribs and breastfeeding pillows. This bill is likely to be brought up again and when it does we will need to tell our legislators that we must keep in mind the known exposures to toxic chemicals while considering how necessary the addition of flame retardants are in children’s products.