Flame Retardants (But Don’t Freak Out)

Look, in the interest of a) actually getting this post, which has been sitting in drafts for a week, posted and b) preserving the spirit of this blog, which is very much a place for me to just hang out, and not feel pressure to be official and all, I’m just going to fudge this a bit. If you’re interested, a quick google will bring heaps of hits, and read the links at the end of the post.
Basically, because of a whole bunch of legislation, a LOT of stuff in AU/US is required by law to have flame retardants in it. Now, I’m not against this idea, because I appreciate my laptop not blowing up on my lap or a plane exploding in midair as much as the next person – but things can go too far, which I think is where babies’/children’s clothing fits in. If you look at the stats, only a very small number of children die from burns each year (and each death is tragic, I fully acknowledge that). Also, the majority of ‘injuries’ from fire, esp house fires, are smoke-related, not flame-related.

Despite this, governments like ot be seen to be doing things, and it’s now a legal requirement that children’s and babies’ sleepwear be doused in flame retardant chemicals – which is all well and good until you do the research and see that these chemicals are increasingly being found to be detrimental to human health generally, implicated in delayed development and developmental disorders, and potentially carcinogenic – especially brominated FRs. Wanna know why we’re seeing so many more cancers in our modern age? I’m betting our longer life spans are not actually the only reason, and that the increasing useage of chemicals and plastics in our everyday lives are related. Do the research (hi, google scholar) – I’m not the only one who thinks so. Obvs, because I had to read about all this SOMEWHERE 😛

Flame retardants aren’t just in kids’ clothing – they’re in aeroplanes, electronics, drapery, carpets, and upholstered furniture. So, growing people, who have a higher surface to mass ratio and a higher food-ingested to mass ratio than adults, and are comparative fragile and susceptible, spend the majority of their lives surrounded by these lovely flame retardants (FRs). Mm, sounds like a sensible plan to me.

So, I was kind of freaking out about this, after having spent about a month ignoring it since I first stumbled acorss it, because really, what can I do? Stop buying upholstered furniture, toss our new lounge (oh yeah, THAT would go down well), buy only organic clothing, rip up all the carpet… Shelve that in the ‘too hard’ basket!!!

But, instead of freaking out I told myself to put on my mature, responsible adult hat and FIGURE OUT WHAT I ACTUALLY COULD DO. So, here’s what you can do if you’re interested in minimising exposure to all sorts of fun-time chemicals.

  • In the US, items manufactured post-2005 are not as likely to have the FRs in them, so if you’re up for new furniture, #win.
  • Wash clothes with soap rather than detergent and soak overnight in either 50/50 vinegar/water or 4 litres (1 gallon) water with 1 cup lemon juice.
  • For clothing, buy secondhand (FR lose their effectiveness after a year or so) or buy organic.
  • Wash hands regularly to prevent ingestion of chemicals picked up in handling everyday items.
  • Vacuum regularly, esp with a HEPA filter. (Yeah, need to work on that one. Vacuuming is the household chore most likely to induce perfectionism-paralysis in me, so I tend to avoid it until absolutely necessary :S)
  • Try to avoid buying furniture with foam – opt for wood, or furniture stuffed with polyester, down, wool or cotton.
  • For upholstered furniture, try to buy furniture that is tightly upholstered and where the foam is wrapped inside the seat cushions – extra layers mean extra barriers to FR seepage/gassing off. For other foam products (car seats etc), try to ensure the foam is completely wrapped, and for all foam products, replace as soon as the foam starts wearing out/breaking down. Don’t reupholster foam furniture. (Urgh, the feeding chair in small person’s room – totes need to make an internal cover for the seat cushion.)
  • Avoid letting children/babies mouth electronics. (Presumably avoid letting anyone mouth electronics :P) (Also urgh, because he was totes doing this at the parental’s house today)
  • Minimise use of carpetting and drapery (not always practical, but I guess at least try to avoid letting the kids eating these? Soak drapes in 50/50 vinegar/water where possible? And vacuum regularly…)
  • Be careful when removing old carpet underlay – try to contain the area and vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly to prevent particles spreading.
  • When purchasing new, opt for naturally fire-retardant fibres (eg leather – #win; the lounge we bought last December is leather), or, if you can’t avoid FRs altogether, try to at least opt for fabrics that are ‘inherently’ FR, which means the FR has been bonded to the fabric fibers and is less likely to transfer.
  • When buying electronics, try to buy from brands that are aware of the issue and are taking steps to address it. Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba Panasonic have all agreed to completely phase out brominated FRs from their phones and computers by 2011, so any new devices by these companies should be at least comparatively safe.
  • The following companies are phasing out Deca, the most common brominated culprit, but may or may not be using other brominated FRs as replacements: Canon, Daikin, Intel, IBM, HP (Hewlett Packard), Minolta, Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Xerox.

So. There are some things to do that are practical and not at all freak-out ish. See me be adult. #win. Linkies below to get you started if you’re interested in the issue.

http://www.ewg.org/pbdefree

http://www.ucsfchildcarehealth.org/pdfs/factsheets/ToxicFlameRetardants_en0710.pdf (this is a PDF! download warning!)

http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca/index.asp?fetch=babycare#cloth

http://www.couriermail.com.au/spike/columnists/our-kids-silent-threat/story-e6frerex-1225859036341

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/pbdes_are_flame_retardants_safe_growing_evidence_says_no/2446/

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