(NaturalNews) You may not be aware of it, but hidden in your clothing, furniture and even electronics are toxic flame retardant chemicals that are increasingly being linked to neurological damage, endocrine disruption and cancer. And in a fascinating investigative series, Chicago Tribune reporters uncover the dirty secrets behind why these toxic chemicals continue to be used in consumer products -- despite their extreme toxicity -- and what you can do to help avoid them.
The history of flame retardant chemicals, which allegedly protect consumer goods against catching fire, begins with the tobacco industry. When pressed several decades ago to develop fire-safe cigarettes to curb the growing problem of cigarette-related house fires, tobacco companies instead came up with the idea of pushing for flame-retardant furniture as a way to deflect focus away from the dangers posed by their own products.
From there, the situation snowballed into one where chemical companies eventually began lobbying for laws that required the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture, including in nursing pillows, blankets, bedding and other materials to which developing babies are routinely exposed. And today, most conventional consumer products that even remotely risk going up in flames contain one or more flame retardant chemicals.
Flame retardant chemicals are toxic and they do not even work
Part of the Tribune investigation includes details about how flame retardant chemicals do not even work as claimed. Besides burning at the same rate as non-treated furniture in tests, flame retardant furniture tends to shed these toxic chemicals as it ages, where these chemicals end up accumulating throughout the house and in the air, and eventually in the bodies of those exposed to them.
"What both the consumer products safety commission and the underwriters' laboratories have found is in using the typical flame retardant chemicals in the actual foam, the foam cushions in chairs, they don't provide any meaningful difference. They don't give you any meaningful protection," says Michael Hawthorne, a Tribune reporter.
"Some of the tests that the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission) did, they lit two chairs on fire. The only thing that was different about the two chairs is one had regular foam, and one had foam treated with a flame retardant chemical [...] after four minutes, both chairs were fully on fire. Meanwhile, this chemical that was supposed to be safely locked inside the foam cushions is showing up all over the planet."
The Tribune expose goes into great detail as to how the so-called Citizens for Fire Safety group, which is controlled by the flame retardant chemical industry, has blocked all efforts at removing flame retardant chemicals from furniture. It also explains how the industry has paid doctors to defend the use of flame retardant chemicals in spite of their known dangers.
So what can you do to protect you and your family from flame retardant chemicals? Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University, says buying organic clothing and bedding materials for her children was crucial to reducing her family's exposure, as was removing all carpeting from her home and replacing it with hardwood flooring and other solid-surface materials.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also recommends seeking out household products, including furniture, that are specifically made without the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and brominated fire retardants (BFRs), whenever possible.