Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health Blog
More bad news for toxic flame retardants
Toxic flame retardants have been getting plenty of bad press lately. In May, flame-retardants gained national attention when the Chicago Tribune ran a six-part expose on the efforts of the chemical industry to misconstrue evidence on the toxicity and overstate the efficacy of flame-retardants. This week, the Detroit Free Press ran a story following up on the lingering, toxic effects of polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) decades after one of the worst agricultural disasters in our nation’s history occurred right here in Michigan. In 1974, thousands of cattle were contaminated with PBB, a chemical that was commonly used as a flame retardant. According to the Detroit Free Press, more than 30,000 poisoned cattle were buried along with 1.5 million chickens and thousands of pigs, sheep, and rabbits that were indirectly contaminated. As a result, the PBB persists today in Michigan soil and rivers, and within the bodies of many men, women, and children who consumed contaminated beef or milk. Families who lived close to these farms continue to be diagnosed with rare diseases and cancers that are linked to their exposure to high levels of PBB.
Our country’s history with toxic flame-retardants is starting to sound like a bad record stuck on repeat.
After the PBB incident in Michigan, manufacturers in the United States stopped the production of PBB. PBB was not the first flame-retardant to be banned in the U.S. In the 1970’s, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were banned because of their high toxicity. PCBs are flame-retardants that are characteristically similar to PBBs. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are also structurally very similar to PCBs and PBBs, and are toxic as well. Two of the commercial forms of PBDEs, penta-BDE and octa-BDE, were banned by the Michigan Legislature in 2004. However, deca-BDE was not banned, even though it is known to break down into these two other more toxic forms. Now, concerns are being raised about new classes of flame-retardants, including chlorinated Tris or TCPP, which has been classified as a carcinogen by the state of California.
PCBs, PBDEs, PBBs, TCPP…it may all sound like alphabet soup, but the reality is that these chemicals don’t just sound the same, they act the same and are similarly toxic.
Unless we create better regulations for the chemical industry, we can expect to hear more about toxic chemical exposures and the chemical industry behaving badly. Since the 1970’s, our government has been playing a game of chemical whack-a-mole to ban toxic flame-retardants. As soon as one toxic chemical is taken off the market, a new, equally toxic chemical takes its place in the production line. However, safer alternatives to these toxic flame-retardants do exist. Our health is needlessly being put at risk! Many of these toxic flame-retardants are already banned in the European Union, so what are we waiting for?
Our current federal regulation for the chemical industry, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is failing to protect consumer health. Unless we want to take toxic flame-retardants off the market chemical by chemical, ad infinitum, we need to improve our standards for regulation.
We need to tell our legislators that enough is enough. It is time that we protect our families, friends, and ourselves from toxic chemicals in every day products. Please tell your Senators that you want them to support the Safe Chemicals Act! The sooner we act, the sooner we can stop this toxic treadmill.