If you follow these things, you've probably heard of the flame retardant chemicals PBDEs. They're in many electronics (possibly even that computer screen you're reading right now), and in the foam in mattresses, car seats, couches and the like that were sold before 2005. They're associated with brain and developmental problems in lab animals and possibly cancer as well. Pretty much everyone in this country has been exposed to PBDEs (although we do have some tips to minimize your exposure).
Now, two new studies published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology reveal that people in industrialized countries may be experiencing large-scale exposure to flame retardants beyond PBDEs. One study identified a flame retardant called HCDBCO in relatively large quantities in a Canadian home. It was the first time HCDBCO had been identified in the environment. (Also: Seriously? A six letter abbreviation? The actual name of the flame retardant is 44 letters long. I kid you not.)
The other study identified another common flame retardant, HBCD, in its highest recorded residential concentration yet. Studies have linked HBCD with neurological and thyroid problems in rats and cancer in humans. The studies suggest widespread exposure to flame retardants other than PBDEs, but more research is needed to determine human exposure levels and, in the case of HCDBCO, toxicity hazards. From ES&T:
Scientists suspect that children are at the highest risk from dustborne contaminants because they are thought to consume much more dust than adults. Harrad cautions that no one knows exactly how much dust the average person ingests. The study nonetheless estimates that a toddler living in the U.K. home with the highest concentration of HBCD couldâ€”per unit of body weightâ€”be exposed to substantially higher concentrations of the flame retardant than an adult working in a manufacturing facility where HBCD is used.
We'll keep you posted as we hear more on these flame retardants.