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Hand-Me-Down Hazard: Flame Retardants in Discarded Foam Products

[] "Hundreds of millions of padded items containing flame retardants are currently in use in the United States, estimates Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute. That estimate doesn’t include the many hundreds of millions more items already in landfills. Blum and her organization spent eight years campaigning for the changes in California’s flammability standards while also urging lawmakers to find a good way to dispose of older items that contain treated foam.

Because flame retardants are not chemically bonded to the foam, they are able to escape into the surrounding environment. Indoor air and dust are thus major sources of exposure to some flame retardants. The National Toxicology Program is currently assessing specific PentaBDE congeners for carcinogenicity, and peer review is planned for June 2015. Multiple prospective U.S. birth cohort studies have reported a 4.5- to 5.5-point decrement in IQ for each 10-fold increase in PBDE body burden. Other flame retardants found in newer furniture include tris (1,3-dichloropropyl) phosphate (TDCPP), which is on California’s Proposition 65 list of substances known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Another flame retardant mixture known as Firemaster 550® has been associated with obesity, anxiety, and developmental problems in in vitro and animal studies. Little toxicity information is available for still another chemical used as a flame retardant in foam, 2,2-bis(chloromethyl)propane-1,3-diyltetrakis(2-chloroethyl) bisphosphate.

Components of these flame retardants have been found in homes, cars, and foam samples taken from baby products. Several studies suggest that children receive greater exposures than adults, with one study detecting the major metabolite of TDCPP in children at levels nearly five times higher than in their mothers. Data collected via the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates that PentaBDE congeners are present in the blood of virtually all Americans and at higher levels in children than adults."

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