Flame Retardants In Thousands Of Products May Be Increasing Cancer-Risk

Flame Retardants

According to recent research, the long-term use of flame retardants in thousands of American consumer products may raise the chance of dying from cancer. According to the study, people who had the greatest blood concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, were around 300% more likely to die from cancer than people who had the lowest concentrations. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study examining the connection between PBDE exposure and the overall adult population in the United States risk of cause-specific mortality.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a long-term federal research project focused on US citizen health. 1,100 survey participants had their blood levels of these chemical components measured between 2003 and 2004.

In a study that was published on Monday in the journal JAMA Network Open, the researchers describe how they connected the levels of PBDE to death certificates that came out 15–17 years later. While the study found a significant overall association between PBDE exposure and cancer-related deaths, the available data did not allow researchers to pinpoint specific cancer types.

Previous research has linked different kinds of flame retardants to cancer risk, but the link to cancer mortality, according to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrics and population health professor at NYU Langone Health in New York City, advances scientific understanding. He refrained from taking part in the study.

A researcher who studies how plastics, flame retardants, and other chemicals affect kids named Trasande claims that “the new study links PBDEs to deaths from cancer, building a case for the association between flame retardants and cancer mortality being real.” “We can’t get these chemicals out of the environment overnight, so this impact will continue because they have long half-lives and stay in the human body for years,” he said.

The American Chemistry Council is a consortium of flame retardant producers and distributors. CNN received the following email from a council official. Despite not having had a chance to read the whole report on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), we have always advocated for the use of credible scientific data and research.

“The responsible production, use, and management of chemicals and chemical products in a manner that protects the environment and public health is the aim of the North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) and its member companies. This covers chemicals used to prevent or reduce the spread of fires, safeguarding individuals, assets, and property.

Risks PBDEs Pose To Health

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, often known as endocrine disruptors, are chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormone balance. Research has linked the chemical components to issues with reproduction, obesity, thyroid conditions, poor blood sugar metabolism, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that tests have shown that most Americans have three to 10 times the quantity of these endocrine disruptors in their blood than people in European countries, indicating that exposure to PDBEs is not a recent development.

Previous research has shown that flame-retardant chemicals can also enter growing fetuses through the placenta and enter newborns through breast milk. An August 2020 study found that PBDEs are currently the primary cause of intellectual disability in children, responsible for about 738,000 cases of intellectual disability and a total loss of 162 million IQ points.

What Role Do Flame Retardants and PBDEs Play in Your Life?

Manufacturers use flame retardants in car upholstery, infant car seats, office chairs, loveseats, couches, and some toys, as well as in foam-padded yoga mats, padded baby items, and carpet padding. Chemical coatings on electronics and kitchen appliances can also reduce the chance of a fire.

The US market saw the voluntary withdrawal of two PBDE types in 2004. The US Environmental Protection Agency did not begin regulating decabromodiphenyl ether, or DecaBDE, a flame retardant linked to cancer that is used in computers, televisions, textiles, building and construction materials, and imported items like automotive parts, until January 2021.

Trasande claims that although the industry has periodically replaced these chemicals with more advanced phosphorus-based flame retardants, scientists are now concerned that these compounds may also be linked to cancer.

Antique couches and carpet padding still include foam that has some of the older chemicals, such as PBDE. However, as flame retardants have leached from landfills over decades to contaminate the air, soil, groundwater, rivers, and streams, pollution is a major source of exposure. The CDC states that contaminated consumer items, household dust, and food residues—especially in high-fat foods like fatty fish—can all expose people to these toxins.

The reason for this is that once PBDEs are in the environment, they build up in animal fat. When an animal eats another, the amount of poisons in the mixture increases. Because they are the top predators in the food chain, humans have some of the highest quantities of PBDEs.

“We live in an environment where we use products that have these chemicals added many years ago, so these flame retardants will stay around and are detectable in all of us in the US,” said Trasande. The CDC states that those who operate in enclosed spaces where products manufactured, repaired, or recycled that contain PBDEs may be among the most vulnerable.

It is important to note that NAFRA members do not produce PBDEs and have supported their phase-out. The American Chemistry Council replied to the email with the following statement: “PBDEs are regulated worldwide and have significantly decreased in the environment.”

Fish PBDE levels had dropped by 75% during the preceding 20 years, but this reduction has paused, according to a March study. Researchers found the chemicals in 93% of the fish they investigated, with some sites exhibiting an increase. The average amount of fish in the United States is actually hundreds of times greater than the environmental quality standards set by the European Parliament.

In a June 2017 study, almost 10 years after the chemicals were phased out in 2004, Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a nonprofit that fights for environmental and public health, said that scientists found greater levels of PBDEs in newborns.

She wrote in a message that “some infants showed higher levels of PBDEs than their mothers, illustrating how legacy chemical exposures don’t go away immediately after phase-outs or bans are enacted.”

How to Ensure the Safety of Your Family

Despite the removal of many of these chemicals, some manufacturers may still add flame retardants to padded products including nursing pillows, changing table pads, crib mattresses, and nap and workout mats, according to the EWG. Read the flammability warnings for these products as a result.

According to the group, “it is difficult to buy a flame retardant-free car seat and impossible to avoid these chemicals in automobile seating.” To stop the chemicals from escaping faster, keep any current foam mattress pads, furniture cushions, and baby car seats completely covered with flame-retardant fabric. Another factor in this is tears in the foam.

When reupholstering antique couches or chairs, be sure to choose foam that is free of flame retardants to replace the old padding. Likewise, EWG recommended mask wear and additional caution while cleaning up after handling chemically treated scrap foam used as padding under carpets. Frequently vacuum and damp mop the house, especially if there is a child living there. When vacuuming, use a vacuum with a high-efficiency HEPA filter to collect dust and other debris.