Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to avoid toxic flame retardants

How to avoid toxic flame retardants
Eight easy tips for avoiding or reducing toxic flame retardants in your home.

I have never been one for dusting. Just ask my mom. I was the child with the room full of knick knacks, an aversion to cleaning and great tolerance for dust and clutter. I’m the person most likely to write in the dust on the mirror: “A clean house is the sign of a wasted life.”

But I’m starting to change my tune.

Dust isn’t just dust. It contains tiny particles of stuff that includes a lot of undesirable chemicals. In particular flame retardants that are still in use today and others that have been banned from newly-manufactured items but are still everywhere in our homes.

Furniture foam, upholstery, fabric, carpets, drapes, mattresses, electronics, hair dryers and components of kitchen appliances are all treated with flame retardants. Some flame retardants are being phased out but items that were manufactured before 2006 contain banned chemicals.  

The concept of flame retardants makes sense in our world of highly combustible synthetic materials. Household items made with polyurethanes, nylon and polyester are treated for safety purposes, so they don’t explode into balls of flame if something ignites them.

But is it a “fox minding the henhouse” sort of problem? These chemicals (the PBDE family) build up in our bodies and never go away and this accumulated exposure has been associated with birth defects, low sperm count, brain development and cognitive issues, liver problems and cancer. As usual young children are more at risk because they put stuff in their mouths.

Manufacturers have started to move to alternative flame retardants but it appears that these might not be any safer. In a rush to gets PBDEs out of use, these new chemicals were fast-tracked and are now showing up in our air and water. Long-term effects are unknown.

Fortunately we don’t need to panic about all of this.
According to research the primary source of exposure to these chemicals (old and new) is household dust.

Enthusiastic dusting and vacuuming will keep flame retardants harboured by dust in check.

Seven more ways to reduce your exposure to flame retardants:

  • When you dust use a damp cloth so you’re not simply stirring up the dust.
  • Keep your vacuum filter clean.
  • In the bedroom use a mattress cover as a barrier to contain the particles that are off-gassed from your mattress. Then wash your mattress cover and bedding regularly.
  • Old furniture with foam that’s exposed or starting to come apart should be replaced or repaired with new foam.
  • If you’re in the market for new upholstered furniture ask about the use of flame retardants on the foam and fabric. 100 percent flame-retardant-free foam is available and natural fabrics like wool and cotton are naturally fire resistant so don’t require treatment.
  • Look for products manufactured in Canada since there is a greater chance they won’t contain PBDEs.
  • If you’re in the market for rugs or carpets choose those made of natural fibers such as wool or cotton since flame retardant treatment isn’t necessary on these fabrics. 

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