Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flame Retardants - The Danger of Dust Bunnies

Toxins Part 3 takes us to brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in chapter 4 of Slow Death.  I grew up in a home with matches and lighters on every table, never too far from my mom's reach.  But I never played with them. Apparently I'm unusual that way.... 


Uses:
* It's not flammable.   PBB Firemaster and Deca are in moulded plastic parts like televisions, computers, cellphones....   PBDE is the most common BFR found in  pillows, mattresses, furniture, carpets, insulation, car interiors, air plane interiors....  Tris-BP is in less than 1% of pyjamas now.

Alternatives
* Hide the matches and stop smoking. Don't leave candles unattended.
* Use natural fibre products like wool, hemp and cotton.
* IKEA doesn't use BFRs anymore. 
* Reupholster old sofas or chairs.
* Dust your home regularly.
* Ask the store for BFR-free electronics - many have stopped using them including Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Samsung. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* They're lipophilic - they accumulate in our fat tissues and stay there a long time.  They're concentrated in top-level predators, and sit in breast tissue which contaminates breast milk
* They're persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which have long half-lives in the environment and in people and animals, similar to PCBs.
* They can pass to a developing fetus in utero.
* Concentrations have increased fivefold around Quebec City in the past ten years
* Levels in Harbor Seals in BC are increasing exponentially and will surpass levels of PCBs this year.
* The typical Canadian home has high levels in the dust alone
 
Health Concerns
* They're very similar to PCBs which were banned in the 70s because of health concerns.
* There's been concerns since the 1970s that it's a mutagen and carcinogen.  In 1977 it was found that Tris-BP is a potent cause of cancer, 100 times more powerful than cigarettes, and that it could be absorbed by children through their skin - discovered by testing the urine of kids wearing treated pjs. 
* When PBB was accidentally put in cattle feed, the cows got hematomas, absecesses, abnormals growths, hair loss, and reproductive abnormalities. 
* They're endocrine disruptors which can act like estrogen or anti-estrogens.  They can shorten the duration of lactation.
* Neurodevelopmental cognitive-motor deficits.  They are neurotoxins - affecting brain development. 
* Intellectual impairment in children
* Greater risk of cancer.
* Disrupt thyroid hormones.  


Why it's still in use
* One answer is because kids play with matches on furniture. Instead of hiding the matches, we need to make everything not flammable.
* Bromine is only found in three specific areas: Arkansas (Great Lakes Chemical Corporation), China, and Israel. It was used in leaded gasoline, but when that was phased out in the 60s, the companies searched for a new use for all their bromine supplies. They tried it as a pesticide, but it was banned in 1983 because of evidence that it's a carcinogen and a mutagen and was contaminating groundwater supplies in the states.  Luckily the move to try it as a flame retardant in the 70s took off.  
* Pyjamas used to be cotton, but that didn't mix with BFRs well, so they started making pjs out of polyester to be able to make them fire-proof.
* Chemtura Corporation and Israel Chemicals is fighting hard to keep PBDEs.

Legislation
* The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for action in the 70s.  Tris-BP specifically was discontinued in garments because the safety testing necessary to assuage public concern was too costly.  All the treated clothes were shipped out of the U.S. for sale in other countries. 
* In 1998, a study in Sweden found that breast milk contained decreasing amounts of PCBs finally (30% of the levels since it was banned in the 70s), but PBDE levels were increasing exponentially.
* 2008, Europe banned Deca in electronics.  Canada labelled it toxic, but hasn't banned it yet. 

* April 7-9, 2010 in Kyoto, there's a symposium on BFRs. 

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