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Flame Retardants Targeted by Senate Environment Committee

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today scrutinized a failed federal law that has allowed toxic flame retardants to be widely used in consumer products.

Spurred in part by the Chicago Tribune’s investigation of the flame retardant industry, a growing number of senators have called for restrictions on these toxic chemicals and major reforms to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.

“Flame retardants have proven useless in preventing fire,” said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook. “Yet they are very toxic to people, particularly to very young children, who tend to carry more of these substances in their blood than adults. They’re highly toxic to the developing nervous system. They have no place in products our kids touch every day of their lives.”

“I applaud Chairman Barbara Boxer and Senators Frank Lautenberg and Dick Durbin, among others, for their calls to ban flame retardants and overhaul the failed federal toxics law that has been ultimately responsible for the pollution in people,” said Cook.

Flame retardants permeate a wide variety of consumer goods, from clothing and electronics to crib mattresses, carpet and furniture. The chemicals, technical called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, accumulate in people and wildlife and disrupt brain development and hormone systems. Two forms of PBDEs have been pulled from the American market after EWG and others conducted tests that found high levels in the blood, milk and body tissues of Americans. A third type called Deca, is still widely used in electronics.

In the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in parents and their children, EWG found that toddlers and preschoolers typically had three times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers. In total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children.

In 2004, as part of its groundbreaking tests of umbilical cord blood, EWG had 10 samples of cord blood tested for hundreds of different chemicals and found an average of 200 in each. EWG tested for 46 different PBDEs and detected 32.

A year earlier in September, 2003 EWG tests found fire retardants in the breast milk of 20 first-time mothers at unexpectedly high levels.