Exposure to fire retardants may cause reduced IQ and fertility, learning disorders, thyroid disruption, and cancer. If you’re concerned about these chemicals and are ready to rid your home of toxic flame retardants, we’ve got 7 easy steps to make it happen.
Fire Retardants and Their Discontents
According to the US EPA, there are studies that suggest exposure to certain flame or fire retardants may be associated with a range of health concerns, including reduced IQ, learning disorders, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption, and cancer.
Fire retardants is a broad class of chemicals. In practice, manufactures add either single chemicals or mixtures of chemicals to some polyurethane foam and PVC/vinyl products (which you’ll find in a range of products, including bath thermometers and tubs), among others.
In other words? We’re quite possibly exposed to a broad range of these chemicals on the daily.
Scientists have identified flame retardant chemicals in children’s car seats, baby carriers, changing table pads, infant crib mattresses, baby bath toys, nursing pillows, sleep positioners, strollers, and toys.
The following flame retardants are some of the most common.
PentaBDE is a flame retardant containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Long used in residential furniture, the tide has turned on PBDEs in the last 15 years or so.
In 2002, Europe banned PBDEs. The EU has either banned or severely restricted brominated flame retardants.
Industry in the US voluntarily phased out PBDE use in 2004/2005 after studies detected PentaBDE in human tissue, and concerns arose about its safety.
Since this voluntary phase out, the use of PentaBDE in the United States has sharply declined. Unfortunately, the use of other flame retardant chemicals has sharply risen.
It’s also worth noting plastics manufacturers in China still use PBDEs.
TDCPP and TCPP
If you decide a polyurethane foam product is the right choice for your family, look for one that’s independently certified not to contain TDCPP by choosing CertiPUR-US® certified foam. Examples of crib mattresses made with this certified foam include the Colgate Eco Classica III, Nook Pebble Air and Nook Pebble Lite.
TDCPP stands for tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate. It is an organophosphate flame retardant.
As the use of PentaBDE has declined, the use of TDCPP has increased, suggesting manufacturers are using TDCPP as an alternative to PBDEs.
Manufacturers add TDCPP to foam and latex (along with resins and polymers). This makes it of particular concern to parents who want to minimize their baby’s exposure to flame retardants via crib and pack and play mattresses, car seats, and elsewhere.
Within the United States, TDCPP is widely used as a chemical flame retardant additive. Researchers have found it in 36% of polyurethane infant products.
Despite its widespread use in baby products made from polyurethane foam, evidence suggest TDCPP is a developmental neurotoxicant and a probable carcinogen, as well as an endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant.
Furthermore, studies have shown it is widely present “in dust from homes, offices, and automobiles.”
TCPP is a different chemical flame retardant. Structurally, it’s similar to TDCPP. However, TCPP is much newer. As such, less is known about it. Current research has identified TCPP as a possible carcinogen, and shown it accumulates in the liver and kidneys.
Firemaster® 550 and Firemaster® 600 (FM 600)
Firemaster® 550 is a proprietary flame retardant mixture. It contains both brominated and organophosphorous flame retardant chemicals.
While little is known about Firemaster® 550’s health impacts, a study from Duke University and NC State found it is an endocrine disruptor, that components of it bioaccumulate in animal subjects, that it crosses the placenta during pregnancy and can accumulate in breast milk.
The flame-retardant mixture known as “Firemaster 550” is an endocrine disruptor that causes extreme weight gain, early onset of puberty and cardiovascular health effects in lab animalsNC State University
Manufacturers use Firemaster® 550 in polyurethane foam products.
There is less information available about Firemaster® 600. It is also a fire retardant mixture of brominated and organophosphorus FRs.
A chlorinated organophosphate flame retardant mixture, V6 contains (among other FRs) tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate or TCEP, a carcinogen.
Tris-isobutylated triphenyl phosphate (TBPP) is a flame retardant mixture containing organophosphate flame retardants that don’t contain halogens such as bromine or chlorine. Approximately 40% of the mixture that makes up TBPP is triphenyl phosphate (TPP), which can “have high acute aquatic toxicity.”
Isopropyl triphenyl phosphate (ITP) is an organophosphate FR. Research has shown that organophosphate FRs are carcinogenic, as well as immune, neurologically, and developmentally damaging. Researchers at Duke University have found ITP compounds in Firemaster® 550.
Methyl phenyl phosphate is an organophosphate flame retardant mixture that doesn’t contain halogens such as bromine or chlorine. Like TBPP, the MPP mix contains TPP. However, there isn’t a lot of research on this chemical mixture and its safety.
How Can You Protect Your Family Against the Health Hazards of Fire Retardants
Flame retardants are still painfully ubiquitous. Ultimately, the onus lies with consumers, both to minimize their family’s exposure, and to “vote with their wallet.”
7 Steps to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Flame Retardants
- Keep your home free from dust
Multiple studies have linked household dust as a common mechanism of exposure to fire retardant chemicals. Regularly cleaning and dusting to keep dust to a minimum is one way you can reduce your family’s exposure to flame retardant chemicals.
Use a damp cloth to dust, rather than a dry cloth or feather duster. This ensures the dust will be trapped on the cloth, rather than released into the air.
- Keep your floors clean
Vacuum regularly, preferably using a vacuum that has a HEPA filter. For non-carpeted surfaces, wet mop your floors regularly.
If you have a baby the crawls on the floor, or have children that spend a lot of time on the floor for tummy time and playing, regularly clean the areas in which they spend the most time to remove dust.
- Wash your hands regularly, and ensure your children do the same
Wash your hands after handling dust, dryer lint, computers and other electronics, toys that may contain flame retardants, and furniture containing polyurethane foam (pack and play mattresses and crib mattresses often contain foam).
Reduce hand-to-food exposure by washing your hands thoroughly before handling food or eating.
- Use indoor air filters with a HEPA filter
Indoor air filters will help to capture some but not all household dust. After handling the filter, wash your hands thoroughly. When changing the filter, be careful not to breath in any dust that is released in the process, and clean this dust up with a damp cloth.
We use a Blueair air purifier in our home, and are constantly amazed how well it works.
- Purchase products that don’t contain chemical fire retardants
If you’re uncertain whether a product contains flame retardant chemicals, or a manufacturer is vague on their website or in response to queries, don’t buy it.
In general, avoiding products that contain polyurethane foam can reduce your family’s exposure to these chemicals (this will also reduce exposure to VOCs). You can choose furniture products that use untreated polyurethane foam, or look for alternative fibers such as a cotton, wool, coconut coir, or natural and untreated latex.
Manufacturers also add fire retardants to PVC (aka: vinyl), so those products are best avoided as well. PVC is also a source of phthalates, which come with their own set of health concerns.
Generally, I recommend organic crib mattresses / mini crib mattresses / big kid mattresses from companies like Naturepedic.
- Purchase products with independent certifications
If you do purchase polyurethane foam furniture, choose brands that use CertiPUR-US® certified foam. This foam is certified to be without PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants. However, it may still contain other flame retardant chemicals.
For products that commonly contain foam (pack and play mattresses, car seats, etc), do your research in advance.
- Replace or reupholster old or damaged furniture
Identify old furniture with foam in your house. Replace it when it’s economically feasible to do so. If you have furniture with a damaged cover, get it reupholstered, and if you have furniture with crumbling foam, replace it.