Just experienced a trifecta of new-to-me surprising info about flame retardants. Here’s the gist.
“The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world.” according to Chicago Tribune. They go on to say that, contrary to industry positioning, flame retardants don’t work, and there is mounting evidence that they are unsafe for humans (specifically, cancer, reproductive problems).
One flame retardant, chlorinated Tris, was removed from children’s pajamas in the 70s due to research about how it can alter brain development in fetuses, but still appears in couches and nursing pillows without warning labels (according to Kristoff in the New York Times).
Florence Williams, author and reporter, tested her breast milk for toxins. “It turns out that our breasts are almost like sponges, the way they can soak up some of these chemicals, especially the ones that are fat-loving — the ones [that] tend to accumulate in fat tissue,” Williams tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “Unfortunately, the breast is also masterful at converting these molecules into food in the way of breast milk.”
Williams found “average to high levels” of flame retardants in her breast milk. That said, she didn’t stop breastfeeding, saying a) that formula may also be subject to contaminants, and b) she thought the benefits of nursing outweighed the risks:
“We now know that there are substances in breast milk … that are not digestible by infants. So what are they doing there? It turns out, they’re digestible by beneficial bacteria. So over millions of years, the mother has been creating a substance that will recruit useful bacteria into her infant’s gut, and this sets her infant up for life. So as much as breast milk is a food, we also now understand that it’s also a medicine.” [Fresh Air interview, May 16, 2012]
The gist of the Williams’ interview, the Chicago Tribune report, and Kristoff’s call-to-action are that public policy changes, and/or awareness-raising to lead to industry changes, are needed to reduce the prevalence of flame retardants in our homes, our bodies, our environment. They are as almost one voice saying it’s hard (perhaps impossible) to avoid consuming flame retardants personally since products are not labeled and usage is so prevalent.
However, some suggestions on how to avoid flame retardants in the home from Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke and a mom (via the Chicago Tribune):
- Wash hands, especially after touching dryer lint or playing on the floor (flame retardants are in house dust)
- Stapleton also personally chose to:
- Remove carpeting (as it tends to collect more dust)
- Buy organic-material mattresses for her children (after testing the foam ones the daycare was using)
Here are sources for further reading/listening:
- Fresh Air (NPR) interview with Florence Williams: Just What’s Inside Those Breasts? (May 16, 2012)
- NYTimes OP-ED by Nicholas Kristoff: Are You Safe on That Sofa? (May 19th, 2012), which points to the Chicago Tribune reporting below.
- Chicago Tribune Watchdog Series: Playing with Fire (May 2012)
- Also in the Chicago Tribune (source of the image above): Reducing Your Risk
Your thoughts are welcome! Do you think flame retardants is the “new” BPA?