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In The Dust

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In The Dust

Toxic fire retardants in American homes

View and Download the report here: In the Dust

In the first nationwide tests for brominated fire retardants in house dust, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found unexpectedly high levels of these neurotoxic chemicals in every home sampled. The average level of brominated fire retardants measured in dust from nine homes was more than 4,600 parts per billion (ppb). A tenth sample, collected in a home where products with fire retardants were recently removed, contained more than 41,000 ppb of brominated fire retardants — twice as high as the maximum level previously reported by any dust study worldwide.

Like PCBs, their long-banned chemical relatives, the brominated fire retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are persistent in the environment and bioaccumulative, building up in people’s bodies over a lifetime. In minute doses they and other brominated fire retardants impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in laboratory animals.

EWG’s test results indicate that consumer products, not industrial releases, are the most likely sources of the rapid buildup of PBDEs in people, animals and the environment, which has been documented by tests from Europe to the Arctic. Scientists now recognize that indoor environmental contamination, including contaminants accumulating in household dust, pose a substantial health risk to the population. Our findings raise concerns that children may ingest significant amounts of toxic fire retardants via dust, and indicate that the impending federal phase-out of two PBDEs doesn’t go far enough to protect Americans.

Two of the three main PBDE products in use, Penta and Octa, will be taken off the U.S. market at the end of 2004. The fire retardants industry has strongly resisted the regulation of the third product, Deca, maintaining that it is not harmful despite mounting evidence that shows Deca is toxic, detected widely in the environment, and can break down to more harmful forms, including those being phased out.

View and Download the report here: In the Dust