Monday, August 18, 2014

Flame Retardants: Why You Should Be Concerned

Flame retardants are chemicals, usually added to fabric or polyurethane foam, that are meant to inhibit flames and prevent the spread of fire. They’re nearly impossible to avoid given that they’re in things like furniture foam, carpet padding, insulation, and electronics. I was first introduced to the idea that flame retardants were omnipresent and could be harmful  when I watched Toxic Hot Seat on HBO while pregnant. I highly recommend you watch it. It’s life-changing.

So why exactly are flame retardants dangerous? They have been linked to decreased IQ, attention problems, and decreased fine motor control in children. They have also been linked to infertility in women. The most alarming research has found that flame retardants cause mutations to human DNA and tumors in lab rats. And, in rats exposed prenatally, flame retardants cause obesity, early signs of diabetes, early puberty, anxiety, and behavioral problems. You may have noticed that I used a pretty strong word just then—CAUSE. That’s right, I’ve said that these chemicals are known to CAUSE some pretty awful things. Them’s some pretty strong words in the world of science. You best know it’s serious if I’m droppin’ C-bombs.

I won’t go on and on here about flame retardants and how they got into everything. Rather, I’ve provided some helpful links below to let you start exploring on your own. My personal favorite is the Chicago Tribune’s series on it. Rather, my purpose with this series of blog posts is to introduce you to the idea that replicated and respected research indicates that these chemicals are dangerous and tell you about some ways that I try to reduce my family’s exposure.

There have been a few steps toward getting these dangerous chemicals out of our homes, but the battles have been brutal and the progress has been slow. As soon as researchers and activists get chemical companies to stop making a particular flame retardant or get the government to take action against ones that have been shown to be harmful, the chemical companies make another one and claim that it’s safe (just like they did when they made the first ones). Because progress is so slow, and new chemicals are manufactured and distributed so fast, your best bet is to try to avoid and eliminate these chemicals. Below are two easy and cheap ways to get you started. 

Avoiding Flame Retardants: Cleanliness 

First, the cheapest and easiest way I found to reduce my family’s exposure to flame retardants was to wash our hands with soap and water frequently (at least four times a day). The logic behind frequent hand washing is that the flame retardants are on the dust that gets on our hands that we then put in our mouths. Basically, we’re eating flame retardant dust so the cleaner we can keep our hands, the less of it we eat.

Another easy and cheap way to reduce flame retardant exposure is to vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter. This sucks, I know, because no parent wants to find time in his or her day to vacuum. If you’re like me, you’re barely able to keep enough dishes clean to eat your ice cream straight from the carton. But, it’s a worthy inconvenience to consider adopting because babies and kids (this applies to fur babies too) are thought to have more flame retardants in their systems due to flame retardant-soaked dust falling on the floor where babies and kids play, which gets into their blood when they indiscriminately put their hands and God-knows-what-else in their mouths because they’re wild animals. Thus, I’ve started vacuuming more with my Dyson that has HEPA filtration (Dyson, feel free to send me products to review!) because, now that Frankie is almost crawling, flame retardants freak me out more than ever. They freak me out so much that my husband and I have a running joke in which he asks me if I’ve thought about flame retardants yet that day. It’s not really a joke, though, because I actually do think about flame retardants every day. In fact, I started this blog, at least in part, to help increase awareness of flame retardants. So, that’s why I vacuum way more than I used to and wish I did it more.

We're all just doing our best, even Professor Parenting.